vonRonda Hauben 03.08.2015

Netizen Journalism and the New News

Exploring the impact of the net and the netizen on journalism and toward a more participatory form of citizenship.

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[Note: This is my submission for the UNGA WSIS + 10 Review. It is available at the UN WSIS+10 Review website. Ronda
See http://unpan3.un.org/wsis10/nonpapersubmissions and http://workspace.unpan.org/sites/Internet/Documents/UNPAN94996.pdf ]

B. Formal Input

Some guiding questions for…submissions are listed below:

1. To what extent has progress been made on the vision of the people-centred, inclusive and developmentoriented Information Society in the ten years since the WSIS?
2. What are the challenges to the implementation of WSIS outcomes?
3. What should be the priorities in seeking to achieve WSIS outcomes and progress towards the Information Society, taking into account emerging trends?
4. What are general expectations from the WSIS + 10 High Level Meeting of the United Nations General Assembly?
5. What shape should the outcome document take?

Submission for WSIS Review *

1.To what extend has progress been made on the vision of the people-centered, inclusive and developmentoriented Information Society in the ten years since the WSIS?

The vision of the people-centered, inclusive and development-oriented Information Society presented at WSIS is a good vision and a vision that needs to help to encourage implementation actions.

Critical for the fulfillment of this vision is the need to understand the important role that netizens play in carrying out the goals.

I participated in the WSIS Tunis Summit (November 16-18, 2005). Also I chaired a panel and made a presentation about Netizens at the side event for the WSIS Meeting “Past, Present and Future of Research in the Information Society” (PPF) held in Tunis on November 13-15, 2005. The side event was sponsored in part by the 4S

My presentation at the forum described how the Internet was developed and spread and how the discovery of the emergence of the netizen happened. It documented how the role of the netizen in the continued development and spread of the Internet was identified and embraced by many online users around the world. The vision for the development of the Internet was created by JCR Licklider based on his research in computers and human brain science. It adapted a notion of cooperative modeling as a conceptual framework.

Similarly my talk presented the discovery in 1993 of the netizen by Michael Hauben in his research about the social impact of the Net. Netizens, Hauben observed, “were active participants in helping to spread the Internet and to foster its continued development as an advance in communications that would be available to all.” He clarified that Netizens were those people online who actively contribute to the development of the Net. He wrote, “These are the people who as citizens of the Net I realized were Netizens.” (Netizens, p. ixx) He differentiates, however, between those who he identifies as netizens and others online. “Netizens are not just anyone who comes online. Rather they are people who understand that it takes effort and action on each and everyone’s part to make the Net a regenerative and vibrant community and resource.” (Netizens, p. x)

In a presentation made to an ITU Workshop Izumi Aizu explained the importance of Michael Hauben’s concept of netizens toward “the global governing framework of Internet we are tasked by the WSIS (World Summit on the Information Society) process.” Aizu explained why it was necessary to “listen to those who are affected by the decisions it makes”, and how “Netizens act as watchdogs, or function to provide appropriate Checks and Balances, to counter interests of others such as provider of services, business, and government.”

I am proposing that there is a need for the UN General Assembly (UNGA) to include in its WSIS + 10 Review statement a recognition of the importance of input from and discussion by netizens as an essential characteristic of the people-centered, inclusive, and development-oriented Information Society

2. What are the challenges to the implementation of WSIS outcomes?

The challenge is to recognize the need for a bottom up process to implement the WSIS vision. Also there is a need to accurately identify problems impeding the development and spread of the Net and to find a means to resolve the problems.

At the airport on the way home from WSIS in Tunis I met a colleague from an African country who described the difficulties that government was having in his country in its efforts to spread the Internet. He described how there was a plan to wire the government offices in his region and to then use the Internet connection to connect the local schools. What he found, however, was that when private contractors were brought in to connect the government offices, the connection could not be spread elsewhere. The government plans to own and administer the connection had envisioned how this would make possible an inexpensive means of connection for the region’s schools. This did not happen.

This is an example of how there may be different views of how Internet connectivity can be provided and the private sector and public sector can have different interests that can either impede or facilitate the spread of the Net to the public.

Providing a means for the citizen and netizens to learn of these different models for development and having the Net help to make public discussion and input possible can provide a means to identify the challenges and determine how to resolve them.

3.What should be the priorities in seeking to achieve WSIS outcomes and progress towards the Information Society, taking into account emerging trends?

In her presentation on July 2 2015 to the Informal Interactive Consultations, Divina Frau-Meigs proposed that what is needed is an “Internet of Citizens, of Netizens, not an Internet of Things.”

Since my request to comment from the audience at the July 2 meeting was not granted during the meeting, I am submitting the comment I planned to make as part of my submission:

This is the submission I tried to make at the July 2 meeting:

“Not an Internet of Things, but an Internet of Citizens, of Netizens”

I want to support Divina Frau-Meigs’ statement in her presentation at the informal consultations on July 2 that what is needed is an “Internet of Citizens, of Netizens, not an Internet of Things.” I want to offer some clarification. The concept of Netizen in its origins is not a description of all users, but of those users who have taken on to contribute to the development and the spread of the Internet and to making possible the better world that more communication among people can create.

The concept of Netizen comes from the research and writing of Michael Hauben while he was a college student in the early 1990s. Michael was interested not only in how the Internet would develop and spread, but also in the impact it would have on society. In 1993 he sent out a set of questions across the computer 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 their own needs, but also they were interested in spreading the Net and in exploring how it would make a better world possible. A network user with this social perspective, or this public interest focus Michael called a Netizen. Thus the Netizen was not all users, but users with a public purpose.

Another aspect is that the Net is international and has been from its very beginnings. Netizenship isn’t a geographically limited concept. To be a netizen is to be not only a citizen of one country, but also a citizen of the Net. Based on his research, Michael wrote the article “The Net and Netizens: The Impact the Net has on People’s Lives”. The article and the concept of the Netizen spread around the world via the Internet and the netizens.

Michael and I included his influential article as part of a Netizens Netbook which was first put online in 1994, and which was then published in a print edition in 1996 in English and in Japanese, titled “Netizens: On the History and Impact of Usenet and the Internet”.

The concept of Netizen was part of WSIS in Tunis in 2005, yet it was sidelined or ignored at the UNGA WSIS until Divina Frau-Meigs’ talk. In its place we are told there are “stakeholders” – but “stakeholders” is a term used to identify those seeking to benefit corporate or institutional interests. Governments are charged with a public purpose and hence are only mistakenly called “stakeholders”. Similarly, netizens are not “stakeholders”, but instead those who contribute for a public purpose, for the public interest.

One UN member nation delegate asked how to deal with problems online. Traditionally Netizens would take up to deal with problems that developed online. It is important not to seek to disenfranchise Netizens but to welcome Netizens and the concept of Netizenship into the heart of the WSIS + 10 Review by the UNGA. For any future development of the vision of a “people-centered, inclusive, and development-oriented Information Society”, the Netizens must be recognized and integrated into the WSIS process.

4.What are general expectations from the WSIS + 10 High Level Meeting of the United Nations General Assembly?

There should be a web site set up for the WSIS + 10 Review that makes possible online discussion by Netizens of the issues related to the Review. There was such a web site for the 2003 WSIS and some interesting issues were raised by netizens.

5.What shape should the outcome document take?

It is important that the outcome document not try to block views. If there are disagreements, the disagreements should be reflected as part of the outcome document.

*This submission is my own views as a netizen and not the views of any organization.


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