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Who controls what we see on social media? New film 'The Cleaners' explores how decisions are made and by whom

'The Cleaners' documentary at Hot Docs

Enter a hidden third world shadow industry of digital cleaning, where the internet rids itself of what it doesn't like. Bots increasingly do a lot of the work, but the human element is a critical part of the equation. 

In the film The Cleaners, we meet five "digital scavengers" who are among thousands of people outsourced from Silicon Valley whose job is to delete "inappropriate" content off the net. In a parallel struggle, we meet people around the globe whose lives are dramatically affected by online censorship. A typical "cleaner" must observe and rate thousands of often deeply disturbing images and videos every day, leading to lasting psychological impacts.

Yet underneath their work lies profound questions around what makes an image art or propaganda and what defines journalism. Where exactly is the point of balance for social media to be neither an unlegislated space nor a forum rife with censorship?

The Cleaners struggles to come to terms with this new and disconcerting paradigm. Evolving from a shared social vision of a global village to a web of fake news and radicalization, the film charts the rise and fall of social media’s utopian ideology.

About the Directors:

Hans Block is a German theater director, filmmaker and musician. He studied music at the University of Arts in Berlin and theater directing at Ernst Busch Academy of Dramatic Arts in Berlin. In 2014, Block became resident director and member of the Artistic Direction of the Box at Schauspiel Frankfurt. Productions there included Mysterien – Unberechenbar werden by Knut Hamsun, Aufzeichnungen aus dem Kellerloch by Fjodor Dostojewski and Flankufuroto by Bonn Park.

In 2014, he was invited to the festival Radikal Jung at the Münchner Volkstheater with his production Austrian Psycho, which was awarded the Best Production Prize of the festival. His radio drama production Don Don Don Quijote - Attackéee was awarded as best production of Prix Marulić 2015.

Director Moritz Riesewieck is a German essay author, scriptwriter, theater- and film director. He studied theater directing at Ernst Busch Academy of Dramatic Arts in Berlin. Before he studied some semesters of Economics as a fellow of the German Academic Scholarship Foundation and worked as assistant director at Schaubuehne am Lehniner Platz in Berlin.

In 2014 he staged the piece Woyzeck by Georg Buechner in Mexico City. His Spanish/ German graduation production was invited to renowned Heidelberg Play Market. In 2016 Moritz Riesewieck was granted the state of Berlin's Elsa Neumann Scholarship for his innovative theater works which were shown at festivals in Berlin and Hamburg and most recently at Theater Dortmund.

In the same year Riesewieck presented a lecture performance about digital cleansing at re:publica Berlin and at Berliner Theatertreffen. His essay Digital Dirt Work was published by German publishing house dtv in September 2017. Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck work collaboratively under the label Laokoon, named after the legendary Trojan seer who revealed the Trojan Horse as a dangerous fraud.

In their works Riesewieck and Block aim to reveal the Trojan horses of our time. Their projects, which they develop in various media forms, start with investigations and end up as striking, complex narrations.

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Image Copyright: Gebrueder Beetz Filmproduktion and Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck. Used with permission.

For more information about David Peck's podcasting, writing and public speaking please visit his site here.

With thanks to producer Josh Snethlage and Mixed Media Sound.

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