Neha sat down at her terminal and tried to clear her mind before she started. She held a paper cup of black tea up to her nose with both hands and inhaled its floral aroma long and deep. Her eyes closed, and she tried to lose focus, lose herself in a temporary void. The clock bell on the wall screamed like a brass jackhammer. It was time to work.
An image flashed on the screen: a white male, early twenties. It looked like maybe he’d been in a motorcycle accident or just had a brain tumor removed. A curved red line ran from his temple to behind his ear where his hair had been shaved. His head was held shut with a row of fresh surgical staples. She’d spent two second looking at it—half her allotted time. She decided it was not in violation and pressed the Approve button. The next image appeared.
It was a close up of someone holding their penis. Less than one second. Remove.
The next image was famous: the execution of a captured Viet Cong officer, Bảy Lốp. Technically it violated the terms of service agreement, but it also won a Pulitzer. Approve.
It was replaced with an image of a burned car on the side of a desert road. The fabric of the front seats had only been spared from the flames where bodies had been pressed against them, leaving horrible outlines by way of the absence of char. A masked figure stood in the foreground with an AK-47 held to a weeping boy’s face. The metadata indicated the photo was taken directly in the app within the last 24 hours. But this image was not famous: Remove.
Here was a picture of the US President’s face Photoshopped over a picture of Hitler. Uninspired. Neha had seen variations of this theme every day for six years, across various politicians from dozens of countries, and the precedent was well established. Approve.
All around her, hundreds of her coworkers performed the same task every four seconds, hour after hour, every day of the week. They were the guards at the gates of free speech. On this end of the Internet, they didn’t create posts about their lives; they removed the posts of others. This was the heart of the antisocial network.
She looked at a picture of someone standing on manicured green grass in a fenced in yard and holding a beer in a glass bottle. On their shirt in bold capital letters was a racial slur. She couldn’t reconcile it with the Hollywood movie she watched the night before. It was a bootleg copy of a movie about grown men who were powerful businessmen and country club members who played a game of tag for thirty years. She suspected the US was in the middle of its second civil war. It was a cultural war, and everyone was on their own side. Remove.
Another penis. Every few minutes there was another. Who kept posting these? Whoever they were, she hoped they lost the war. Remove.