We Had To Remove This Post is the story of a content moderator and how she came to leave her job, looking into the dark realities of what lives under our social media. The novel opens with Kayleigh explaining to a lawyer that she’ll recount what happened when she worked as a content moderator for a social media platform she cannot name, and that’s what she does: explains why she needed money, how she trained and became a moderator, made new friends and a girlfriend there, and then how things started to go downhill, with her colleagues’ newfound interests in conspiracy theories. The question is, did the content affect Kayleigh too?
This is a short, sharp novel that can easily be read in one sitting, a book that doesn’t waste space with extra detail but focuses in on Kayleigh’s job and her relationship with Sigrid, building towards her leaving. I assumed it would have a dramatic end to her being a content moderator, but actually it’s a little more ambiguous, not quite offering up all the details and ending on a slight cliffhanger. In this way, I felt like it reflected the content Kayleigh moderated: she talks of context, of captions and of not caring about other videos from the same account, not knowing what happens to people after the content is or isn’t taken down.
Some people might find the offhand dark and traumatic content—or the conspiracy theories that the workers start to pick up from the content they have to moderate—too much to handle, but the chilling way that this content becomes part of their everyday, their jokes, is an important part of the book. I’ve read about content moderation and I think this novel sits quite nicely alongside factual accounts (there’s a list of further reading at the end) as something that uses shock value a little differently, and really utilises the first person narration to make you think about perspective, just as online content is governed by perspective. The focus isn’t really on the content itself most of the time, so if you’ve read anything about content moderation, nothing in the book is likely to be very shocking, but what hits harder is the reactions of the people behind the moderation.
As someone very interested in internet culture and evaluating the ethics and hidden elements of tech and social media, I knew when I kept hearing about this book that I needed to read it, and I wasn’t disappointed by it, as it delivered a sharp jab about the impact and complexities of content moderation whilst using its narrative style and structure to reflect the fast-paced nightmare of said moderation. It doesn’t offer answers, or give you the closure that the content moderators also don’t get with each post, but instead will make people talk and gives a chilling look at whether exposure to content will make people change.