Sonic Publics| The Hidden Listeners: Regulating the Line from Telephone Operators to Content Moderators

Elinor Carmi


This article examines hidden workers in media technologies and how media companies use them to engineer sociality. It focuses on two types of workers: telephone operators in the early 20th century and contemporary content moderators in social media. This article proposes processed listening as a concept that is better suited to examine their work, especially attending to multiplicities of actors, spaces, and temporalities. Drawing on science and technology studies and sound studies, I examine how processed listening involves the way hidden media workers tune in and out of multilayered mediated spaces to monitor, detect, measure, categorize, and filter unwanted people and behaviors. In doing so, they embody both the communication channel and the filter. They create a feeling of immediacy that is sold as “real-time” experience, while shaping what is sociality. In this way, media companies can avoid being accountable for the decision-making processes involved in the operation of their services.


processed listening, sound, real time, telephone operators, content moderators, Facebook

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