Review: We Had to Remove This Post by Hanna Bervoets

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For readers of Leila Slimani’s The Perfect Nanny or Ling Ma’s Severance: a tight, propulsive, chilling novel by a rising international star about a group of young colleagues working as social media content monitors—reviewers of violent or illegal videos for an unnamed megacorporation—who convince themselves they’re in control . . . until the violence strikes closer to home.

Kayleigh needs money. That’s why she takes a job as a content moderator for a social media platform whose name she isn’t allowed to mention. Her job: reviewing offensive videos and pictures, rants and conspiracy theories, and deciding which need to be removed. It’s grueling work. Kayleigh and her colleagues spend all day watching horrors and hate on their screens, evaluating them with the platform’s ever-changing terms of service while a supervisor sits behind them, timing and scoring their assessments. Yet Kayleigh finds a group of friends, even a new love—and, somehow, the job starts to feel okay.

But when her colleagues begin to break down; when Sigrid, her new girlfriend, grows increasingly distant and fragile; when her friends start espousing the very conspiracy theories they’re meant to be evaluating; Kayleigh begins to wonder if the job may be too much for them. She’s still totally fine, though—or is she?


We Had to Remove This Post has been suggested to me several times in various places, and honestly I thought these suggestions were right. The story is about Kayleigh who works for a company that screens social media content for decency. The first line of the novella, “So what kinds of things did you see?” is really what I was wanting to know when the book started. For some reason, I expected there to be descriptions of horrible internet stuff and a plot about really damaged people who have to deal with the mental strain of watching hours of these types of videos for work. What I read was not quite close enough to expectations.

When we first meet Kayleigh, she is starting the job watching videos because she needs money. She becomes friends with her coworkers, and they go out drinking almost every night after work, mostly because there is nothing that can describe what they were feeling after a long day of watching terrible internet content. They are destined to be friends outside of work because nobody besides one another will understand what happens in the videos that the public does not see. This also makes this group of coworkers act in ways that they don’t exactly always know they are doing. The focus of the book is more about the workers than the content. There is psychological damage and jagged breaks from reality when a person watches so much violence, hate, gore, and ugliness, that he cannot help but be affected, even if he doesn’t realize it. 

Hanna Bervoets is a popular author in the Netherlands, and this is her first book translated into English. I have read a few other Dutch novels, particularly those written by Maria Dermout and Herman Koch, and there seems to be a weird vibe that Dutch literature seems to possess. It is almost like no matter how cheery the story, there is an undercurrent of filth that is alluded to but not explained. Bervoets lets us know from the beginning that there is no cheer to be found here. She does this with the original question, “so what kinds of things did you see?” Even without many passages about the gore and violence, the true answer to that question lies in the actions of Kayleigh and her coworkers. This makes real life these characters are living more devastating than anything they screen that is submitted to a social media site.

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