At the New Inquiry, Mayukh Sen takes a skeptical look at the popular short documentary Like (2016). Directed by Garrett Bradley, Like examines the working life of a man at a "click farm" in Bengladesh, where companies and individuals can pay for artificial social media likes:
What's the value of the Facebook like? Midway through American director Garrett Bradley’s nine-minute documentary, Like (2016), a scraggly, worn-faced Bangladeshi man asks this question—one that’s typically uttered by academics or social media strategists. Released at the end of March by Field of Vision, First Look Media’s documentary arm, Like concerns the cottage industry of click farms in Bangladesh’s capital city, Dhaka. Flush with cash, this pay-per-like market employs a $200-million-a-year silent workforce, where a customer can pay $50 for at least a thousand likes per post. Its workers, like the man asking the question, receive a meager monthly stipend in exchange for the labor, the emotionally deadening task of manually clicking Facebook’s like button over and over again for hours.
Bradley’s anonymous narrator attributes the existence of this industry to Bangladesh’s economic squalor, particularly among a class of recent young male college graduates. These graduates have lofty aims of becoming doctors or engineers or government employees. But the density of the country’s 156-million-strong population makes for a difficult job market. What becomes of the aspiring engineers or doctors who can’t make it in their desired field? They land in information-technology jobs, and some of those jobs happen to be on click farms.
It’s not difficult to understand why First Look would fund a documentary like this. By focusing on the Facebook like, Bradley’s documentary can take on the digital economy’s grimy human underbelly in the global south along with the complicity of Western consumers. This all has the DNA of some meaty, viral longread. In the days following the film’s release, I couldn’t help but marvel at how uncritically effusive cheerleaders for the film were. But as someone who was born into a Bengali family, its deficiencies were glaring to me.
Image via the New Inquiry.