Reuters was able to sit down with four former censors who worked at Sina Weibo, and talked politics, job prospects, and feelings. The actual piece (here) is very good but a bit meandering, so here are the juicy bits.
On being an underpaid, overworked, woman-deprived keyboard jockey:
“People are often torn when they start, but later they go numb and just do the job,” said one former censor, who left because he felt the career prospects were poor. “One thing I can tell you is that we are worked very hard and paid very little.” […]
Reuters got a glimpse of the Sina Weibo censorship office in Tianjin, half an hour from Beijing by high-speed train, one recent weekend morning.
A dozen employees, all men, could be seen through locked glass doors from a publicly accessible corridor, sitting in cramped cubicles separated by yellow dividers, staring at large monitors. […]
Most Sina Weibo censors are in their 20s and earn about 3,000 yuan ($490) a month, the former censors said, roughly the same as jobs posted in Tianjin for carpenters or staff in real estate firms. Many took the job after graduating from local universities.
“People leave because it’s a stressful dead-end job for most of us,” said a third former censor. […]
On an average day, about 40 censors work 12-hour shifts. Each worker must sift through at least 3,000 posts an hour, the former censors said.
On deleting content:
Sina’s computer system scans each microblog before they are published. Only a fraction are marked as sensitive and need to be read by a censor, who will decide whether to spare or delete it. Over an average 24-hour period, censors process about 3 million posts.
A small number of posts with so-called “must kill” words such as references to the banned spiritual group Falun Gong are first blocked and then manually deleted. Censors also have to update lists of sensitive words with new references and creative expressions bloggers use to evade scrutiny. […]
If a sensitive post gets missed and spreads widely, government agencies can put pressure on Sina Corp to remove the post and occasionally punish the censor responsible with fines or dismissal, the former censors said. […]
The busiest times are during sensitive anniversaries such as the Tiananmen Square crackdown on pro-democracy protesters which took place on June 4, 1989, and major political events.
The censors shifted into high gear during the downfall last year of former high-flying politician Bo Xilai, who faced trial last month on charges of bribery, graft and abuse of power. A verdict may come this month.
“It was really stressful, about 100 people worked non-stop for 24 hours,” the first censor said, referring to when Bo was stripped of his posts and later expelled from the Party.
Well there you have it. There was a similar series of censor-interviews last October, in the Ai Weiwei-curated issue of the New Statesman.