Almost a decade later, the video and the child in it still haunt her. "In the back of my head, of all the images, I still see that one," she said when we spoke recently. "I really didn’t have a job description to review or a full understanding of what I’d be doing. I was a young 25-year-old and just excited to be getting paid more money. I got to bring a computer home!" Mora-Blanco’s voice caught as she paused to collect herself. "I haven’t talked about this in a long time."
Mora-Blanco is one of more than a dozen current and former employees and contractors of major internet platforms from YouTube to Facebook who spoke to us candidly about the dawn of content moderation. Many of these individuals are going public with their experiences for the first time. Their stories reveal how the boundaries of free speech were drawn during a period of explosive growth for a high-stakes public domain, one that did not exist for most of human history. As law professor Jeffrey Rosen first said many years ago of Facebook, these platforms have "more power in determining who can speak and who can be heard around the globe than any Supreme Court justice, any king or any president."
From BBC Three’s Thirteen and the Oscar-winning Room, perhaps this year’s most prominent lost and found stories, to the The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and 10 Cloverfield Lane, as well as the upcoming second series of The Missing and novel (soon-to-be-major-movie) Berlin Syndrome, British and American pop culture has been gripped by the kidnap narrative. Young women stare desperately out of skylights or at heavy metal doors, before wrenching themselves through. Their kidnapper has methodically planned their captivity for years, making escape particularly difficult. They often exploit the mental weaknesses in their abusers in order to do so. They struggle to find a psychological liberty that matches their newfound physical freedom, and to detach themselves from the events of their captivity. The same events that contemporary audiences seemingly cannot look away from.
Everyone Brave Is Forgiven is essentially a story about what courage is, and how it reveals itself under pressure. While it lacks the hallucinatory brilliance of Bowen’s The Demon Lover or the emotional power and complexity of Waters’ The Night Watch, it is an absorbing, sharply paced novel.
Which is why, at least once a week, I take myself out for a well-lit meal for one. I am, at this very moment, sitting in a cafe beside a woman with hair like a well-crafted plum duff, eating a cheese sandwich. At my other elbow a woman in pale blue headscarf and tweed jacket is pecking at a bowl of granola like a sparrow. In the corner, a man in gently darkening photochromic lenses is chewing through a plastic tub of what looks, from here, like gravel. We are all eating alone. And so, of course, none of us is eating alone.
The stars have shaped our thinking – from the earliest religions to the latest bestselling sci-fi novel. Stephen Hawking’s plan to laser propel tiny spacecraft towards Alpha Centauri doesn’t only sound like sci-fi, it is an idea straight from the pages of David Brin’s Existence, among others.