- Although they are often asked to just copy and paste what is assigned to them, they cannot help think about what they are posting. Sometimes if it is something that conflict with their own values, such as ads of fake drug or financial scams or libel against an innocent person, they often struggle with the dilemma between fulfilling their job like a digital robot and acting according to their own feelings.
- To enter different websites, they need to created multiple online IDs. Sometimes they take these online IDs as simple masks, which embolden them to do things that they wouldn’t dare to do under their real name. But some develop a relationship with the fabricated identities, particularly if it is in a forum with personal interactions, they would feel bad if their job assignment leads to the notoriety of their IDs.
- They often need to paste hundreds of posts a day, which left them no time for real life interactions. Working all day on the Internet, and often not able to explain to their family or friends what their job is, made many of them feel detached from the real world. Sometimes they even see themselves as outsiders of the society. This is very common among all kinds of cyber workers I interviewed.
- They still would like to be a little creative in their online work. For example, a water-army soldier once told me that he like to use many web slangs in his posts, and sometimes his clients like it, because it will make his posts seem more real.
- The fact that they are being paid for posting online does change their experience of participating in online discussions. Many of them told me that they are now more skeptical of what people say on the Internet, because they know how many water armies are out there, and they tend to think people are more vulnerable on the Internet than they realize. But they are not entirely cynical about the Internet, most of them still enjoy all kinds of online interactions and often find the job of paid posting a better choice than other alternatives they have.
Last night I heard from friends on Sina Weibo that Google Plus was unblocked and there is a Chinese carnival on Barack Obama’s G+ page, where we can do our favorite online activities such as 抢沙发 （”occupying sofa”－being the first in the comment roll ), and刷屏 （”swiping screen”-creating a sea of comments that flood the whole page). I immediately went to my G+ account, which I haven’t used since I opened it last year, and added Obama to my circle of “family”. Wow, under the first post I saw on Obama’s page dated Feb.24, 90% of the 500 comments are in Chinese, and a significant amount of the rest are in Chinglish. I have not seen a virtual party so wild since the April of 2010 when we climbed over the Great Firewall to follow the twitter of Aoi Sola (Japanese AV star).
BBC actually reported on this phenomenon already, but its misinterpretation of the Chinese comments has itself become a source of amusement for Chinese netizens. The BBC article says, “they talked about occupying the furniture and bringing snacks and soft drinks.” Obviously the reporters had no idea what “occupying sofa” means in Chinese Internet Language, which is the frontier of linguistic innovation. The folks at China Internet Watch tried to help out and explained:“occupying sofa” is a common behavior often in online forums trying to be the first to leave a comment or reply. Imagine many friends visit you at your house, the first ones arrived can take the sofa (which is more comfortable), those who are a bit late have to take the chairs, and the ones come last have only the floor to sit on”. Continue reading