Explore Issue 01 of LOOP Magazine

Featuring Sam Tompkins and Victor Ray as our cover stars, as well as internal spreads from Girli, Jords, Mysie, Finn Askew, Kara Marni and Master Peace

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We Had To Remove This Post – An Ex-Social Media Manager Reviews A Social Media Horror

If you’re not 100% dedicated, being a social media manager feels like the worst job in the world. It never ends. Just as you’re scrolling through your feed at 3am, the big bosses expect a social media manager to be doing the same, keeping an eye on the crowd, constantly with their brain in the game. You can’t be aimless anymore; Tiktok is more an ideas session, Instagram is for inspiration for the next marketing push, Twitter is now a pond full of conversational big fish you need to be catching. Dominating your life in a whole new way, the toxicity merges with demand, calling for hours that would make Marx cry. It definitely made me cry enough, typing captions through tears that would fall a hundred times harder if any minor typo or forgotten tag slipped through.

There’s a reason why there are so many meme pages set up with side jokes made purely for social media managers. It’s a cult-like existence except we’re all worshipping our own gods – our brands, bosses and clients. It defines your life in a way no job should and in my couple month-long stint, I started to think a worse job in the social sphere couldn’t exist. On the day I left, Hannah Bervoet’s We Had To Remove This Post slid through my letterbox like an omen.

Ironically, it was Tiktok that turned me onto the novel. Previously published in Dutch, Emma Rault’s translated version is about to be released worldwide and, thank god. Dubbed a social media thriller, I’m not sure the label does it justice. Seeing the word thriller pulls up images of scary masks and knives, of Hannibal and gore, but We Had To Remove This Post gets all its horror from our world. Inspired by reports from real people in the offices of Facebook, all these horrors are things we’re slowly becoming immune to with each scroll, the worst of which are filtered out and taken on by people we’ll never be able to thank; people like the protagonist – Kayleigh.

In need of money, Kayleigh becomes a content moderator. Far beyond scrolling through comment sections and making sure it all says friendly, Kayleigh and her colleagues are subject to the worst content the internet has to offer. The book repeatedly spares you the descriptions, but imagine the worst things you can think of, and I think we can safely double it in intensity. Working through checklists and processes, the content moderators spend hours and hours in windowless rooms seeing things so we don’t have to, reading conspiracies we’re protected from, cleaning up our feeds. We all say that social media is driving us crazy, but throughout the novel, Kayleigh and her colleagues spiral in a way that we’ll never understand because of their work. 

Gripping the book with both hands, pouring over it for a day, Hanna Bervoet’s work felt like a slap around the face. Snapping me out of my self-pity having failed as a social media manager, it was like she grabbed my face and screamed ‘you had it easy!’. Captivated and horrified by this whole side of social media work that I never knew existed, even a couple of pages in I knew it was important. Reminding us that there are real, low-wage, working-class people behind the scenes of these multi-billion dollar companies, the semi-fictionalised book serves as a real-world wake up that the corruption in social media is deeper than our own personal issues with it and even all the stuff with dodgy algorithms. Even deeper into the dark hole, real people log on daily to take the trauma for us. Work so essential it can’t be left to a machine, something about his story of workers being used as cotton wool to soak up all the horror before it can stain us is the scariest thing I’ve read in a while. 

“We were doing something that was darkening our soul”

Said by one of the real-world Facebook moderators in an article that inspired the novel. Confirming all of Hanna Bervoet’s plot points about the excessive drinking, the instances of employees bringing guns to work, the intense trauma-bonded relationships between employees showing early signs of PTSD – it is all real.

Buried in a nuanced novel, Bervoet’s shows their undoing so subtly. At first, I thought it mirrored my own, with employees broken down by the 24/7 never-off demands of social media work. But as the characters unravel, it becomes something else entirely and I didn’t know whether to cry or scream for them. Leaving me upset and helpless, knowing no amount of reduced screen-time would spare these people their upsetting work as bad people will always want to publicise bad things, I guess the visceral reaction is all part of good horror. And the real world is currently providing plenty of material.

Words by Lucy Harbron

Posted On 3 October, 2022