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We Had To Remove This Post Hardcover – 26 May 2022
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'A glimpse of the foetid underbelly of the internet' - The Times
'Taut as a thriller, sharp as a slug of ice-cold vodka' - Irish Times
To be a content moderator is to see humanity at its worst ― but Kayleigh needs money. That’s why she takes a job working for a social media platform whose name she isn’t allowed to mention. Her job: reviewing offensive videos and pictures, rants and conspiracy theories, and deciding which need to be removed.
It’s gruelling work. Kayleigh and her colleagues spend all day watching horrors and hate on their screens, evaluating them with the platform’s ever-changing moderating guidelines. Yet Kayleigh is good at her job, and in her colleagues she finds a group of friends, even a new girlfriend ― and for the first time in her life, Kayleigh’s future seems bright.
But soon the job seems to change them all, shifting their worlds in alarming ways. How long before the moderators own morals bend and flex under the weight of what they see?
We Had To Remove This Post by Hanna Bervoets is a chilling, powerful and gripping story about who or what determines our world view. Examining the toxic world of content moderation, the novel forces us to ask: what is right? What is real? What is normal? And who gets to decide?
Translated from the original Dutch by Emma Rault.
'A superbly poised, psychologically astute and subtle' - Ian McEwan, author of Atonement
'Fast paced and thrilling, violent and nightmarish' - Kristen Arnett, author of Mostly Dead Things
'An acid glimpse into a new form of labor existing today' - Ling Ma, author of Severance
A chilling page-turner . . . the unreliable narrator gives it a strong literary heartbeat ― and it’s richly suspenseful too. With a few deft strokes [Bervoets] manages to incorporate all of the ills of social media into one concise story . . . utterly haunting. -- Johanna Thomas-Corr ― The Sunday Times
The setting alone is compelling and has always been in need of an accomplished novelist’s attention . . . The dreamlike climax of the final pages is beautifully wrought. Men might usefully confront in Bervoetsa writerly intelligence at once so tender and so willing to look into the abyss. -- Ian McEwan ― The Guardian
Bervoets' neat dissection of morality is as taut as a thriller, sharp as a slug of ice-cold vodka. -- Catherine Taylor ― Irish Times
Surprising and enigmatic . . . intriguing and frustrating . . . As we spend more and more time in the trickmirror of the internet, how can we know what or whom to believe? -- Laura van den Berg ― The New York Times
A very modern tale about the dark side of the internet. ― The Times 'Best Books of Summer'
Hanna Bervoet's slim, compelling novel We Had to Remove This Post addresses the foetid morass of social media . . . Bevoets is often acidly funny, especially when demonstraring the workers' mordant, jockish humour. ― TLS
The dank underside of social media, its cruelty and delusions, have become, our shared affliction. It needed an accomplished novelist to explore humanely the damage. Hanna Bervoets has richly obliged in this superbly poised, psychologically astute and subtle novel of mental unravelling. At its wonderful, hallucinatory climax, Kayleigh, the shattered protagonist, asks on our behalf the one true question, and the spellbound reader will usefully struggle for an answer. -- Ian McEwan, author of Atonement
This novel gives us an acid glimpse into a new form of labor existing today, a job that extracts an immeasurable psychic toll. Fascinating and disturbing. -- Ling Ma, author of Severance
We Had To Remove This Post is one of the most fascinating books I’ve read in years. Hanna Bervoets has created an astonishing and compelling cast of characters, drawn together through circumstance, separated by the same. The novel is fast paced and thrilling, violent and nightmarish and grief-stricken, but also tender and wildly moving. A brilliant peek behind the curtains at what happens when we put our trust in social media. Believe me when I say you’ve never read anything like it. -- Kristen Arnett, author of Mostly Dead Things and With Teeth
I thought it was incredible and has real cult potential. -- Alice Slater ― Tik Tok
Powerful, discussable, and a harbinger of a voice-in-translation to watch. ― Booklist Starred Review
Scathing, darkly humorous exploration of the impact of VR, IR . . . Bervoets just gets it. This is, unironically, a novel for our time. ― Kirkus Starred Review
Magnetic . . . Bervoets frames the story like a mystery, slowly revealing the fractured relationships and circumstances that drove Kayleigh away from her job. ― Publishers Weekly
About the Author
Hanna Bervoets is one of the most acclaimed Dutch writers of her generation. She is the author of several novels in her home country of the Netherlands, and she has also written screenplays, plays, short stories, and essays. She is the recipient of many literary awards, including the prestigious Frans Kellendonk Prize for her entire body of work. She was a resident at Art Omi: Writers at Ledig House, New York, and currently works and lives in Amsterdam with her girlfriend and two guinea pigs. We Had to Remove This Post has been translated into thirteen languages and is her first book to be translated into English.
- Publisher : Picador; Main Market edition (26 May 2022)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 144 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1529087228
- ISBN-13 : 978-1529087222
- Reading age : 18 years and up
- Dimensions : 14.3 x 2 x 22.3 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: 5,540 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer reviews:
About the author
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 27 May 2022
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I guess my expectations were that the book would dive deeper into the different ways that the moderator job and consuming different types of social media can affect mental health. Yes, it does suggest desensitisation to everyday events and blurred boundaries. However, I sadly felt that the book just didn't achieve its potential.
Due to the book being a Novella, we don't really get a chance to connect with the characters and the second half of the book focusses on a relationship, which I don't think adds anything to the book and need not have been included at all.
I will say that the author has obviously done a lot of research, specifically relating to the content guidelines.
Well paced, interesting book with relevant subject matter. It could have benefitted from more exploration about the main character and her core fears and desires. I didn't get a strong sense of who she is and what she wants from life. I personally also would have liked a more varied tone, with moments of beauty and visceral descriptions - but there wasn't anything like that in the book. It was all written in one voice with little to no variation of it, at least that's how the translation has been done. If the narrator had varied her tone more, more of the character could have been revealed. I found the description of the other characters lacking in the same department - they all seemed very flat and generic, even the protagonist's love interest.
The book is well paced but emotional impact could have been escalated more via character. I can see what the writer tried to do by hiding the main character's inner world in her focusing on everyone around her (sort of like a Fight Club moment), but she could have taken it a lot further.
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.