Arbitrators of Content: When Censorship and Satire Go Too Far

November 2018

Photos: iStock

The Thanksgiving leftovers are gone, and all things pumpkin have transitioned to everything peppermint. Perfect time to feast on a film, a feature and a podcast to both incite and inspire us during the next round of holidays.

[watch] The price of monitoring online contentThe PBS series Independent Lens recently aired an excellent documentary on offshore content moderators paid to screen and often block controversial pictures and videos. The filmmakers juxtapose young Filipinos hired to ignore or delete a wide range of imagery with the artists, journalists and activists behind the original works. It also takes aim at the geopolitical ramifications from companies like Facebook and Google that for too long ignored how their technologies amplify hate speech and genocide. Coming on the heels of an expose showing Facebook leadership’s preference for profits over patriotism, this documentary is just the latest to show the civil erosion and subsequent destruction (including to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s previous public image) wrought by Big Tech.

[read] ‘Nothing on this page is real.’ One point The Cleaners makes is the way Facebook and Google work public outcry to their advantages using their algorithms to help something go viral. Pulitzer Prize-winner Eli Saslow of The Washington Post shows how this works on a more practical level with an internet “newsmaker” and troll magnet who created a website on Facebook as political satire, only some readers don’t catch that last part and share outrageous ideas and stories as truth. So, while there’s strong evidence a nation-state infiltrated social media to influence U.S. elections, it took real Americans, many living most waking hours online, to make it work as well as it did. 

[listen] A chef’s life in highly digestible (sound) bites. The Big Meal may be behind us, but the holiday baking season is now upon us. Let’s take a moment to digest what it really takes to become an executive chef, or even work as a line cook, at one of New York City’s hottest restaurants. This Farnam Street podcast with Dan Kluger, the chef and founder of Loring Place, should inspire all makers. A central theme is the amount of time and attention to detail required to succeed in any field, and especially one with notoriously thin profit margins. It also may surprise you to learn how many people fail to abide by fine dining etiquette, demanding custom orders and failing to show up on time (if at all) for reservations.

And speaking of “A Chef’s Life,” I’ve long been a fan of the PBS show about North Carolinian Vivian Howard, who managed to not only make a name for herself in culinary circles but for her tiny hometown of Kinston. So, let’s end this list by recommending everyone watch a season or two (or all five!) of Howard’s Emmy-winning program while it’s still available. Then take your grandma’s Christmas cookie or bread recipes and add your own modern twist.

Happy holidays,

Anne Saita