The Sin-Eaters

Artists involved

Sin-eating was an age-old British practice carried out by those living at the margins of their communities. When a villager died of a sudden death and the priest arrived too late for the last confession, a sin eater would be hired. He (it was usually a man) would be handed a ritualistic meal over the corpse and in consuming it, the person would take on the sins of the deceased.

Social scientists have drawn parallel between this long-lost practice and social media content moderation. Tasked with making disappear the darkest sins of social media users and constantly exposed to the the bleakest sides of humanity, moderators end up suffering from nightmares and PTSD. Invisible (and invisibilised), these individuals are paid to surveil us but they are also surveilled by the companies they work for. Their fate reminds us that the cognitive force behind the machines is made of humans. Some of these workers moderate content. Others train machines, labelling, tagging and annotating vast amounts of data. Their work might be less emotionally gruelling but it is soul-crushing, monotonous and unrewarding.

Why are these workers so often living in ex-colonised countries? Is it time to decolonise datafication?
How about artists? They are at the forefront of precariousness. How do they react to the new forms of exploitation of their work enabled by the new AI content generators? How about you and I? How aware are we of the work we perform every day for the leaders of Silicon Valley?