The Cleaners is a riveting documentary about how social media might be ruining the world

Welcome to Cheat Sheet, our brief breakdown-style reviews of festival films, VR previews, and other special event releases. This review comes from the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. We’re in a cultural moment where the impact of social media isn’t something that we just notice when we catch ourselves heads-down in our phones or computers. It’s something that’s underscored with almost daily news stories, with each new revelation seemingly more sinister than the last. It’s so ever-present that it can be easy to tune out, which makes the Sundance documentary The Cleaners pack such a devastating wallop. The film, from first-time documentary directors Moritz Riesewieck and Hans Block, starts with one unseen corner of the internet: the content moderators that work for major platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Google, spending their time looking at every single picture and video that has been flagged for potentially being objectionable. But while revealing the story of those individuals is an interesting place to start, the filmmakers have much bigger ideas they want to tackle. The movie broadens its scope to cover what the directors clearly see as a real-time global catastrophe — a situation where tech companies are so eager to grow, expand, and monetize that they fail to recognize the ways their platforms are fomenting hate, discord, and violence, with devastating results.

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