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”So what kind of things did you see?”

Remember the TV show Dirty Jobs? Where Mike Rowe takes us to the world of weird, wonderful and sometimes downright distasteful jobs? Well, perhaps being a “moderator” for a well know social media platform should be added to that list. As while the grime is not physical, it’s undoubtedly far more impactful.

The role of the moderator is to make a snap judgment on what image is or isn’t deemed to be suitable to be posted online. The line of what’s acceptable often being very blurry, with the company’s guidelines constantly changing. And you can well imagine that the posts are anything but warm and fuzzy.

The company in question – Hexa – is one based in an office tower ”in a business park with its own bus stop, we were among equals, brethren in a secret society.” No pen or paper is allowed on the moderator’s desks, nor mobile phones. Paranoia runs rife, to ensure that security be so tight that everything remained on the shop floor, and not be shared with outsiders.

Kayleigh is our narrator, and perhaps an unreliable one. With her own set of emotional and financial problems, she’s probably not the most suitable candidate for this type of job (but then, who is?).

The work is intense. Image after image after image. All being timed, and each moderator needing to reach a strike rate of five hundred tickets per day. From the moment the moderators log on, every click it monitored, every moment away from the desk noted. Like a battery cage for humans. The clock is always ticking.

”A timer that started counting down the moment we left our desks, even to stretch our legs.”

The bond between the workers – all in their twenties – are formed fast and tight. Going to the local sports bar after work each evening to unwind. To let rip and say all things that they keep close to their chests about what they cannot say during the work day. Outsiders have a ”lurid fascination” for their work, which they cannot speak about.

The longer they work there, the worse their emotional health and psyche suffers. Insomnia. Lousy relationships. Drugs. Addictions. As one of the other moderators says, on the verge of a nervous breakdown before he leaves his job ”I just don’t feel like a person anymore.” What’s seen cannot be unseen.

Trigger warnings! All kinds. You name it. Violent and disturbing images. Substance abuse. Porn. Racism and all round general unpleasantness.

This is a very dark and unsettling novella, originally published in Dutch. It's short and snappy and intelligently written. It will have you wondering about what really goes on behind the scenes of these behemoth corporations, who are churning out content 24/7. Perhaps “spewing” out would be a better description, as there is no way that all of the moderators in the world would be able to capture all the content not fit for viewing. Which really says a lot about modern society.

Perhaps the most frightening thing of all is the Author’s own postscript at the end of the novel:

"This novella is a work of fiction. The characters portrayed are drawn from my imaginations. However, any resemblance to reality is not accidental.”

Followed by two pages listing reference books discussing this very topic. Chilling.

Hanna Bervoets (1984, Amsterdam) is one of the most acclaimed Dutch authors of her generation. She is the author of seven novels, screenplays, plays, short stories and essays. In Spring 2018 Bervoets was a resident at Writers Omi at Ledig House, New York.


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