(Note: The following is the introduction to a talk I gave in Beijing this past summer about the experiences I have had in China in support of a conceptual understanding that the netizen represents in China. Thru this set of experiences I have proposed that we are in the early stages of a new Era, an Era I propose is “the Era of the Netizen.” The participatory empowerment of netizens as is happening in China, South Korea and other nations around the world is setting the basis for the creation of new models for economic, political and social development. I hope in the new year to develop this conceptual framework further.)
I am happy to be here today and to accept April Media’s invitation to make one of the first presentations at April café and salon.
The title of my talk is” The United Nations, China and Journalism in the Era of the Netizen.”*
As was mentioned in a earlier talk today, this year, 2012 is the 15th anniversary of the publication of the English and the Japanese print editions of the book “Netizens: On the History and Impact of Usenet and the Internet.”
To mark this occasion I wanted to try to understand the significance of this anniversary with respect to ongoing development of the Internet and the Netizen. Coming to China this year was an impetus to review my previous visits to China and the interesting events I was able to take part in related to netizens during these visits.
In 2005 when I first came to Beijing, it was because Beijing was the host of the International Congress on the History of Science. At the conference I presented a paper on “The International and Scientific Origins of the Internet and the Emergence of the Netizens”.
At the time there was a lot of new construction going on in Beijing and the city appeared to be new and developing. It appeared to be an appropriate place to present a talk on the importance of internet development. With the continuing development of the Internet the phenomenon of the netizens was becoming more important to understand.
My second trip to Beijing was in April 2008 when I was invited to give a talk at the Internet Society of China.
In my talk I asked the question “Is this is a new Age, the Age of the Netizen?” Also during this trip I was invited to give a talk on “the Global Media and the Role of Netizens In Determining the News.” This talk was for a journalism class at Tsinghua University.
On the day the talk was scheduled, there was a meeting between students at Tsinghua University and several journalists from the International Federation of Journalists. The students at Tsinghua University were angry about the Western media coverage of China. They told the journalists their complaints. The journalists seemed surprised and found it difficult to respond.
In the process I met students who were part of the Anti-CNN web site that was created to challenge the falsifications about China that were then appearing in the Western press.
One of the reasons for my next trip in September 2009 was to participate in a Netizens’ Day event sponsored by the Internet Society of China. This Netizens Festival Day was observed on September 14, 2009.
For this Netizen day event, a stage was set up in front of the CCTV Tower. I was invited to present background on the development of the Netizen. I gave a short introduction about the discovery of the emergence of the Netizens. This was presented in English with a Chinese translation and the event is captured on Youku.
I described how in 1992-1993, Michael Hauben who was then a Columbia University student, sent out a set of questions across the networks asking users about their experiences online. He was surprised to find that not only were many of those who responded to his questions interested in what the Net made possible for them, but also they were interested in spreading the Net and in exploring how it could make a better world possible.
Based on his research Michael wrote his article “The Net and Netizens”.
The netizen, Michael recognized, was the emergence of a new form of citizen. This was a citizen who was using the power made possible by the Net for a public purpose, and who was not limited by geographical boundaries. The Net for Michael was a new social institution and the discovery of the emergence of the netizen was the special contribution that he made to the field of network study.
The first Netizen day event held in China was the first official recognition of the netizen anywhere in the world. It was a celebration to honor the fact that the phenomenon of the netizen continues to develop and spread and to be recognized as a new and important achievement of our times. It was fitting that it was in China with its many millions of netizens pioneering the use of the Internet that there is a day to celebrate Netizens.
When I returned to New York in 2009 after my visit to China, I went to an event at the Chinese Mission to the UN. On the way into the Mission, there was a rack with magazines about China. A magazine in the rack caught my attention. It was the July 5, 2009 edition of the magazine “NewsChina” The title of the issue was “The Netizens’ Republic of China”.
The magazine was filled with articles documenting the impact of the Net and Netizens on what is happening in China. It presented several examples of netizens speaking out in discussions in online discussion groups and forums. In an article titled “Netizens, the New Watchdogs,” the writer, Yu Xiaodong wrote, “It is the newly emerging Internet media, in particular, citizen journalism that has filled the need to kindle political discussion in China leading many to conclude that Internet media has become the mainstream itself rather than a peripheral form of communication.”
Based on these experiences I wrote an article with the title, “China in the Era of the Netizen.” In the article I explained my sense that something significant is happening in China. Beijing, I wrote, was being developed as a world class city with the benefit of contributions made possible by the Internet and by netizens. “So perhaps a special characteristic of Beijing has to do with the emergence of the Netizen.”
The NewsChina issue of the magazine helped to clarify that there were those in China who also recognized that netizens were crucial actors in the development of China.
I have had subsequent visits to China, in which I have been encouraged to give talks about Netizens and about the development and spread of the Internet and its potential impact on China.
What seems significant about these experiences is that there is interest and support for netizen development in China that I haven’t found elsewhere in the world.
(With this introduction I turned to the part of the talk about a problem with the mainstream western media and how the Internet and netizens are creating a needed alternative to solve this problem. I call this alternative form of journalism netizen journalism. The entire talk can be found online along with the powerpoint slides used for the talk. The urls for these are:
I wanted to post this introductory section of my talk independently of the rest of the talk to emphasize the important developments about netizens talking place in China over the past few years and to encourage discussion and study of the implications of these developments toward the creation of a new paradigm for the future.
*Taken from the talk “The United Nations, China and Journalism in the Era of the Netizen” presented at the April Media Salon in July 2012.