I had hoped to write more posts, but a very busy week with school trips, reports to proofread, and our big fireworks event on Friday meant I was too tired to write, or read much this week. The fireworks were great! But, luckily, I got some serious novella reading in the previous week, so here’s my next post for #NovNov22.
We Had to Remove This Post by Hanna Bervoets
Translated from the Dutch by Emma Rault
The second week of Novellas in November hosted by Cathy and Rebecca has the theme of novellas in translation. I bought myself this one a few months ago after hearing Ian McEwan praise it. Not necessarily a recommendation to slavishly follow, but when I looked the book up, it’s theme made it an absolute must-read.
Kayleigh had been working in a call centre, but it didn’t pay enough and she needs rent money after breaking up with her girlfriend. She gets a job working for a social media company as a content moderator. She now spends all her days reviewing and applying labyrinthine rules to offensive videos and pictures, rants and conspiracy theories, and deciding which need to be removed. Every trigger word you can think of applies.
Just as in a call-centre, the employees here have targets to achieve – a really high rate of work and breaks measured by the minute, with little hope of advancement. Their % resolution rate isn’t helped by the ever-changing moderation rules imposed by the platform who, impressed by this group, give the easier decisions to another team in another country. Despite this, Kayleigh is good at her job. There is also cameraderie between the employees in her intake and shifts, she makes a new set of friends, and finds a new girlfriend too.
But the stresses and strains of spending your days watching and applying the rules to posts by potential terrorists, self-harmers, animal torturers, you name it, and all the other nasty things that people post online begins to get to people, even Kayleigh. Senses do get dulled, alcohol after the shift doesn’t necessarily blank it all out, risk taking becomes more normal. Then, in the final pages of the book came one of those, ‘Did I really just read that?’ moments. I had to go back and re-read them. I couldn’t possibly tell you any more! It begins, however, as a flashback with Kayleigh writing an explanatory letter to a lawyer…
The images that keep me up at night, Mr. Stitic, aren’t the gruesome pictures of bleeding teenagers, or the videos of stabbings or decapitations. No, what keeps me awake are images of Sigrid, my dearest former colleague. […] -those are the images that I would like to forget.
Her warts and all story of working there follows. This novella is not easy reading, but it feels very real – the stuff of waking nightmares. It is fast-paced, yet surprisingly subtle, taking the reader with Kayleigh as she becomes unwittingly affected by her work. The translation is superb and seamless. An appendix gives a list of further reading on the subject with many academic references, and it’s clear that Bervoets has based her novel on a sound bed of research. I must admit that as I read it I despaired that we need people to do this awful job, and those that do it deserve to be given proper support, which was lacking for Kayleigh and her colleagues. I would really recommend this well-written and thought-provoking novella, but it is grim.