Author: Lisa Ko
Series: Out of Line Collection #4
Publisher: Amazon Original Stories
First Published: September 1, 2020
Source: Prime Reading
A split-screen view of the tech industry’s underbelly—and the unifying campaign of two distant women seeking to expose their employer—by Lisa Ko, award-winning author of The Leavers.
In this eye-opening short story, a tech reporter’s mistake unites two women eight thousand miles apart. One in New Jersey, one in the Philippines. Same name: Sandra Guzman. Same job: content moderators for a mega social media website. What transpires between them is a friendship that changes their perceptions of each other’s privilege and challenges the power of the very industry they work for.Also in this series: Graceful Burdens
Social media has become a monolith of big business, billions of people around the world use social media platforms daily generating unfathomably amounts of wealth from ad revenue and data mining. There are billions of posts every day, and some of the most brutal, most hateful content can be shared to a worldwide audience at breakneck speed. With a surge of information and other media shared constantly, it has necessitated content moderators, people who filter posts to remove dangerous and harmful content. Social media moderation has become a dark underbelly of the social media industry, it is a job that is relatively unrecognized by most, it’s not a well-paying job, and moderators are subjected to traumatizing content.
“What do you do with all that hurt? You eat it and keep it inside you. You watch and delete, but every day there are two thousand new posts waiting.”
The story follows two women with the same name working the same job for the same company, Sandra in New Jersey and Sandie in The Philippines. Sandra is the daughter of Filipino immigrants, a single mother struggling to make ends meet. Sandie lives in the Philippines with her extended family living in close quarters, she is considered to have a job with decent pay. These two women meet by accident and forge a bond of mutual jealousy over the other’s perceived privilege. I didn’t expect to relate so much to this story as I found myself in Sandra’s shoes, being a fellow Filipino American and a single mother for much of my adult life.
The Contractors exposes the terrible abuses of the social media industry, the unequal wage gap for women, and the poor working conditions of contracted workers both in the U.S. and abroad. It is a short think piece that packs a punch. I only wish that this story could’ve been extended to a full-length novel, a few of the plot points are rushed especially at the end, and it is the type of story that deserves more attention both for the insightful commentary about labor exploitation and also of the vastly different experiences of Filipinos in the U.S. and in The Philippines.
Warnings: descriptions of violence, self-harm, extreme animal abuse, sexual harassment