Skip to main content

“Social Media Police” and “Wonder Girl”: Phenomenological Accounts of Content Moderators’ Experiences in the United States and India

  • 196 Accesses

Part of the Lecture Notes in Networks and Systems book series (LNNS,volume 695)

Abstract

Content moderation is a relatively new occupation wherein reviewers peruse content produced by users of digital platforms to maintain its safety and decorum. Besides news reports, sparse empirical literature exists detailing the nuances of content moderators’ work life. This paper captures the subjective voices of content moderators in the United States (n = 16) and India (n = 16) using phenomenological interviews to unravel their experiences and work identity. Four theme clusters emerged through interpretative phenomenological analysis–Content (Variations in acclimatization; Mixed outcomes of content exposure), Individual and Home (Coming of age; Family vs. content), Team (Symbiotic relationship across team hierarchy; Team culture), and Client and Employer (Work targets and guideline inconsistencies; Culture of care). The themes revealed several similarities in both regional cohorts such as positive perceptions of the occupation, transformative self-growth, and centrality of team relations. Adjustment to content on the job, and effects of the timing of the study and place of work were two areas of differences between American and Indian moderators. The study evinces the scope and importance of the content moderation profession for individuals’ and society’s well-being, as well as makes recommendations for work policy and research.

Keywords

  • Business process outsourcing
  • Content moderation
  • Digital safety
  • Interpretative phenomenological analysis
  • Social media

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Buying options

Chapter
USD   29.95
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
eBook
USD   229.00
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as EPUB and PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
Softcover Book
USD   299.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Compact, lightweight edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info

Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout

Purchases are for personal use only

Learn about institutional subscriptions

References

  1. Ahmad S (2019) “It’s just the job”: investigating the influence of culture in India’s commercial content moderation industry. https://doi.org/10.31235/osf.io/hjcv2

  2. Alase A (2017) The interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA): a guide to a good qualitative research approach. Int J Educ Literacy Stud 5:9–19. https://doi.org/10.7575/aiac.ijels.v.5n.2p.9

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  3. Arashpour M, Arashpour M (2015) Analysis of workflow variability and its impacts on productivity and performance in construction of multistory buildings. J Manage Eng 31:04015006. https://doi.org/10.1061/(ASCE)ME.1943-5479.0000363

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  4. Arsht A, Etcovitch D (2018) The human cost of online content moderation. Harvard J Law Technol. https://bit.ly/3zI9xAB

  5. Banerjee P (2020) Inside the secretive world of India’s social media content moderators. Mint. https://bit.ly/3um0aFF

  6. Beus JM, Jarrett SM, Taylor AB, Wiese CW (2014) Adjusting to new work teams: testing work experience as a multidimensional resource for newcomers. J Organiz Behav 35:489–506. https://doi.org/10.1002/job.1903

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  7. Christiansen CH (1999) Defining lives: occupation as identity: an essay on competence, coherence, and the creation of meaning. Am J Occup Ther 53:547–558. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.53.6.547

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  8. Davis A (2009) Chapter 7: Socially constructing a transformed self-view and worldview. Counterpoints 341:133–154

    Google Scholar 

  9. Eatough V, Smith JA (2017) Interpretative phenomenological analysis. In: Willig C, Stainton-Rogers W (eds) Handbook of qualitative psychology, 2nd edn. Sage, London, pp 193–211

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  10. Gerrard Y, Thornham H (2020) Content moderation: social media’s sexist assemblages. New Media Soc 22:1266–1286. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444820912540

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  11. Gini A (2018) My job, my self: how work defines us. Institute of Art and Ideas (IAI) News. https://bit.ly/39QC5gM

  12. Hofmann SG, Hay AC (2018) Rethinking avoidance: toward a balanced approach to avoidance in treating anxiety disorders. J Anxiety Disord 55:14–21. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.janxdis.2018.03.004

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  13. Kossek EE (2016) Managing work-life boundaries in the digital age. Organ Dyn 45:258–270

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  14. Kozlowski SWJ, Bell BS (2019) Evidence-based principles and strategies for optimizing team functioning and performance in science teams. In: Hall KL, Vogel AL, Croyle RT (eds) Strategies for team science success: handbook of evidence-based principles for cross-disciplinary science and practical lessons learned from health researchers. Springer, New York, NY, pp 269–293

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  15. Larkin M, Thompson AR (2012) Interpretative phenomenological analysis in mental health and psychotherapy research. In: Harper D, Thompson AR (eds) Qualitative research methods in mental health and psychotherapy: a guide for students and practitioners. Wiley-Blackwell, West Sussex, pp 101–116

    Google Scholar 

  16. Liljeholm U, Bejerhom U (2020) Work identity development among young adults with mental health problems. Scand J Occup Ther 27:431–440. https://doi.org/10.1080/11038128.2019.1609084

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  17. McCormack L, Joseph S (2018) PHENOMENA: a 9-step guide to avoiding pitfalls when doing interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA)-IPA and the “lived” experience of complex trauma. Sage Research Methods Cases. https://doi.org/10.4135/9781526429681

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  18. Mukhopadhyay BR (2020) Warning: the (open) secret lives of content moderators. Cassandra Voices. https://bit.ly/3kNU128

  19. Papakyriakopoulos P, Serrano JCM, Hegelich S (2020) The spread of COVID-19 conspiracy theories on social media and the effect of content moderation. The Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) Misinformation Review 1. https://doi.org/10.37016/mr-2020-034

  20. Rana M (2018) Cultural variations in organisations of India and United States: a comparative study. Int J Arts Commerce 7:16–28

    Google Scholar 

  21. Roberts ST (2016) Commercial content moderation: digital laborers’ dirty work. Media Studies Publications 12. https://bit.ly/3ujQSKA

  22. Steiger M, Bharucha TJ, Venkatagiri S, Riedl MJ, Lease M (2021) The psychological well-being of content moderators: the emotional labor of commercial moderation and avenues for improving support. In: CHI conference on human factors in computing systems (CHI ‘21), May 8–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan. ACM, New York, NY, USA, 14 p. https://doi.org/10.1145/3411764.3445092

  23. Summers JK, Humphrey SE, Ferris GR (2012) Team member change, flux in coordination, and performance: effects of strategic core roles, information transfer, and cognitive ability. Acad Manage J 55:314–338. https://doi.org/10.5465/amj.2010.0175

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  24. Thebault-Spieker J, Venkatagiri S, Mitchell D, Hurt C, Luther K. (2019). PairWise: mitigating political bias in crowdsourced content moderation. Paper presented at Human Computation Conference 2019 Work-in-Progress/Demos. https://bit.ly/3mcSSR6

  25. Transparency Market Research (2020) Content moderation solutions market to reach US$ 11.80 Bn by 2027; Synergy of AI and Human Moderation to unlock Higher Value: Transparency Market Research. Cision. https://tinyurl.com/4n6zfkfz

  26. Vaziri H, Casper WJ, Wayne JH, Matthews RA (2020) Changes to the work-family interface during the COVID-19 pandemic: examining predictors and implications using latent transition analysis. J Appl Psychol 105:1073–1087

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  27. Voo TC, Chin J. (2021). Ethics, empathy and attitudes. In: Dent J, Harden R, Hunt D (eds) A practical guide for medical teachers, 6th edn. Elsevier, pp 205–212

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

We thank the participants for patiently sharing their stories with us. We also appreciate the operations, workforce management, and leadership teams for helping us conduct the study.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Marlyn Thomas Savio .

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

Copyright information

© 2024 The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd.

About this paper

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this paper

Savio, M.T., Bharucha, T., Steiger, M., Huang, X. (2024). “Social Media Police” and “Wonder Girl”: Phenomenological Accounts of Content Moderators’ Experiences in the United States and India. In: Yang, XS., Sherratt, R.S., Dey, N., Joshi, A. (eds) Proceedings of Eighth International Congress on Information and Communication Technology. ICICT 2023. Lecture Notes in Networks and Systems, vol 695. Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-99-3043-2_9

Download citation

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-99-3043-2_9

  • Published:

  • Publisher Name: Springer, Singapore

  • Print ISBN: 978-981-99-3042-5

  • Online ISBN: 978-981-99-3043-2

  • eBook Packages: EngineeringEngineering (R0)