After many months of anticipation, journalist Adrian Chen’s piece on commercial content moderation as practiced in BPO (business process outsourcing) sites in the Philippines is out in WIRED magazine today. In it, Chen focuses on the employees of a US firm, TaskUs, whose employees are laboring on behalf of Silicon Valley social media startup Whisper and spent time shadowing them on the job.
…Companies like Facebook and Twitter rely on an army of workers employed to soak up the worst of humanity in order to protect the rest of us. And there are legions of them—a vast, invisible pool of human labor. Hemanshu Nigam, the former chief security officer of MySpace who now runs online safety consultancy SSP Blue, estimates that the number of content moderators scrubbing the world’s social media sites, mobile apps, and cloud storage services runs to “well over 100,000”—that is, about twice the total head count of Google and nearly 14 times that of Facebook.
I consulted with Chen numerous times as he authored this article, drawing from my own research into CCM, a term I coined to differentiate this type of moderation from other, better-known volunteer practices. Between 2012-2013, I conducted several interviews with people working in a variety of CCM settings. CCM is not an industry, per se, but a set of practices that are undertaken in several different sites and contexts: in-house (think on-site, often at a major technology or social media firm); call center (such as the workers in the Philippines interviewed by Chen); boutique (ad agency-style firms that often cover a suite of social media management needs for a brand or company, among them CCM) and micro-labor (CCM tasks broken down into their smallest component parts, and parsed out via digital piecework sites like Mechanical Turk and oDesk).
I am currently at work on a book manuscript focusing on CCM and the workers who undertake it, but if you’d like to read some shorter pieces related to these practices, take a look at my entries here and here. You may also be interested in a few other takes on the topic, including a couple short radio interviews I’ve done, which you can access here.
I’m very pleased by the interest in this important and often unseen labor and the workers who perform these tasks for a living and I look forward to the opportunity to meet and talk with labor activists, artists, and other academics who want to bring invisible digital labor into the light at next month’s #dl14 conference at the New School. Registration is free.
Are you, yourself, a CCM worker or screener, or have you been in the past? Would you be willing to talk with me? If so, please contact me here and I’ll be back in touch as quickly as possible.