If Then

The People Who Hold the Internet Together

A researcher on the gruesome, underpaid world of commercial content moderation.

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About the Show

If Then is a show about technology, society, and power. Each week, the hosts take you on a lively tour of the tech news that actually matters, from fake news in your Facebook feed to the algorithms that want your job to the Uber drivers who want a job with benefits. With news-making interviews of key tech-industry figures, fascinating academics, and top tech journalists, we explore not only how the technology that’s shaping our world works, but the ideas, ideologies, incentives, and biases that underlie it.

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Episode Notes

Host Shannon Palus talks to Sarah Roberts, a researcher at UCLA and the author of Behind the Screen: Content Moderation in the Shadows of Social Media. They discuss the people who protect us from the worst of humanity by sifting through and removing gruesome content from social media platforms—all for low pay, no health insurance, and at the risk of their mental health. Roberts explains how she gets workers who have signed nondisclosure agreements to talk to her anyway, and who social media sites are really beholden to (hint: It’s not you). On tabs, Aaron and Shannon will discuss some slightly more hopeful things.

Podcast production by Justin D. Wright.

Stories discussed on the show:

• Shannon’s Tab: “What If This Were Enough?” by Heather Havrilesky

• Aaron’s Tab: “Domino’s Wants to Slice Away at the Americans With Disabilities Act” by Richard Supple

• Sarah Roberts’ book: Behind the Screen: Content Moderation in the Shadows of Social Media

• Also discussed: “For Once, We Have Good News About Facebook and Content Moderators,” by Kate Klonick in Slate

Host: Shannon Palus

If you have a question or comment, you can email us at ifthen@slate.com.

If Then is presented by Slate and Future Tense, a collaboration among Arizona State UniversityNew America, and Slate. Future Tense explores the ways emerging technologies affect society, policy, and culture. To read more, follow us on Twitter and sign up for our weekly newsletter.