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Thursday, June 8 • 1:50pm - 2:10pm
“Content is King”: Content Moderators in an Information Economy

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As social justice must account for private processes and the distribution of labor, critical making, which refers to “critically-infused reflection about aspects of the [making] process” (Ratto & Boler, 2014, 3), offers an entry point into interrogating social justice movements, including DIY-citizenship practices on social media.

Specifically, since Ratto and Boler (2014) argue “labor in an information economy” is a concern for critical making, I argue greater attention must be paid to the role that content moderators play in this process. Content moderators are the people who customer experience and staffing companies hire to delete objectionable content for their clients. Moderators perform a type of immaterial labor (Pinchevski, 2022), which can result in post-traumatic stress disorder (Riedl et al., 2020).

Thus, as critique is an iterative part of making (Galloway, 2015), this paper asks: what rhetorical strategies naturalize the harm that content moderators often experience?

I use critical discourse analysis to examine two data sets; first, I examine ten online job ads for social media content moderators. These job ads were selected because they were posted from different companies. Next, I examine the public-facing websites of the companies that posted those ads.

Through discussing three interrelated themes that emerged from this discourse analysis, I ultimately argue that both company websites and job ads subordinated content moderators to the content itself.

This work is significant to critical makers because, although content moderation processes are proprietary, critical making, with its history of seeking open-source solutions, is in a unique position to look for ways to make these processes and the effects more open and equitable. Following Costanza-Chock’s (2020) argument that how designers scope and frame their problems foreclose the types of problems they solve, this paper ends by calling for critical makers to scope and frame content moderation “problems” to account for the effects on human content moderators, rather than “content.” Specifically, I argue that a language of a feminist ethics of care (Leurs, 2017) might disrupt the current paradigm of content moderation that prioritizes growth at all costs (Gillespie, 2020).

Costanza-Chock, S. (2020). Design Justice: Community-Led Practices to Build the Worlds We Need. The MIT Press. https://design-justice.pubpub.org/
Galloway, A. (2015). Critique and Making. In G. Hertz (Ed.), Conversations in Critical Making (pp. 71–85). CTheory Books. https://dspace.library.uvic.ca/handle/1828/7070
Gillespie, T. (2020). Content moderation, AI, and the question of scale. Big Data & Society, 7(2), 1–5. https://doi.org/10.1177/2053951720943234
Leurs, K. (2017). Feminist data studies: Using digital methods for ethical, reflexive and situated socio-cultural research. Feminist Review, 115(115), 130–154. https://doi.org/10.1057/s41305-017-0043-1
Pinchevski, A. (2022). Social media’s canaries: Content moderators between digital labor and mediated trauma. Media, Culture & Society, 0(0). https://doi-org.proxy.lib.umich.edu/10.1177/01634437221122226
Ratto, M., & Boler, M. (Eds.). (2014). DIY Citizenship: Critical Making and Social Media. The MIT Press.
Riedl, M., Masullo, G., & Whipple, K. (2020). The Downsides of Digital Labor: Exploring the Toll Incivility Takes on Online Comment Moderators. Computers in Human Behavior, 107, 1–9. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2020.106262


Corinne Jones

Howard R. Marsh Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor

Thursday June 8, 2023 1:50pm - 2:10pm EDT
ARC E-13