vonRonda Hauben 15.10.2015

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: Following is a version of a comment submitted to the UNGA WSIS+10 Review Process as a response to the Non-Paper posted for Comment at the UN website. The url for the Non-Paper is http://unpan3.un.org/wsis10/Events/1st-Preparatory-Meeting/Comments-for-non-paper. The url for this submission is http://workspace.unpan.org/sites/Internet/Documents/UNPAN95298.pdf, the url for all comments is http://unpan3.un.org/wsis10/Preparatory-Process-Roadmap/Written-Comments-on-Non-paper]

The first item in the Preamble for the Non-Paper states:

“We affirm the vision of a people-centered, inclusive and development-oriented information society defined by the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) as well as the objectives and norms established in the Geneva Declaration of Principles. The Geneva Plan of Action, the Tunis Commitment and the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society.”

This is an important statement of the vision for the information society. The statement of how to implement this vision as presented in the non-paper draft, however, is missing a critical element. This element was contained only in a partial manner in the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society, but at least it was included in this partial form. The statement that presented this partial means of implementing the vision was contained in item 90(d)

This item stated:

d) implementing effective training and education, particularly in ICT science and technology, that motivates and promotes participation and active involvement of girls and women in the decision-making process of building the Information Society.
( See item 90d at the url http://www.itu.int/net/wsis/docs2/tunis/off/6rev1.html )

The importance of this item is that it states that the goal of ICT is to motivate and promote participation and active involvement in the decision making process of building the Information Society.

The item, however, limits this objective to “girls and women.” While this is a critical objective for women and girls, it is also important that it be an objective applied to boys and men of all ages, i.e. to all people.

The Non-Paper has an obligation to improve on the conceptual framework that the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society set, rather than to delete this objective all together. It is important to include a statement early on in the Non-Paper that states that the goal of ICT is to motivate and promote participation, especially of users and netizens, and active involvement in the decision making process of building the Information Society.

An earlier submission for the WSIS + 10 Review argues that “Critical to the fulfillment of this vision is the need to understand the role that netizens must play in carrying out the goals.”(See http://workspace.unpan.org/sites/Internet/Documents/UNPAN94996.pdf )

This submission referred to the side event “Past Present and Future of Research in the Information Society” (PPF) held in conjunction with the Tunis Summit in 2005. In a panel at the PPF on the “Origin and the Early Development of the Internet and of the Netizens: their Impact on Science and Society”, a talk was presented explaining why the participatory nature of the Internet is a critical aspect for its continuing development. It pointed to the work of JCR Licklider whose vision for the creation of the Internet as well as whose early work setting the technical foundation for it was a significant factor. Licklider not only recognized the need for a vision which would guide the continuing development of the Net but he also recognized the need for participatory action on the part of those online who would act as citizens of the developing net. (See http://www.columbia.edu/~hauben/tunis-wsis-2005/RHauben-Tunis-talk.pdf)

Licklider proposed the need for people who cared about the Net to be involved in its continuing development. He suggested that this involvement could include those who would: study, model, analyze, argue, write, criticize, and work out each issue and each problem until they reach consensus or determine that none can be reached.

In the early 1990’s a college student found that there were a set of people online who were concerned about the development of the Internet and who were contributing to working out the problems of its continuing development. He proposed the term “netizen” building on the concept net.citizen which was being referred to at the time.

Netizens, as the student wrote, are those who embodied the social conscious and public purpose similar to that which Licklider had considered important for the continued development of computer technology and for the public policy to support that development

The concept of netizen has spread around the world to include two uses, one refers to everyone on the net, and the second, as the college student intended, reserves the use of the word to refer to those who contribute to the development of the net. He wrote:

“Netizens…are people who understand it takes effort and action on each and everyone’s part to make the Net a regenerative and vibrant community and resource. Netizens are people who decide to devote time and effort into making the Net, this new part of our world, a better place.”

In her presentation to the WSIS + 10 Review on July 2, Divina Frau-Meigs noted that what is needed is an “Internet of Citizens, of Netizens not an Internet of Things.”

The concept of netizens, like that of citizens, embodies the notion of a participatory process that welcomes the active participation of those who take a social focus, a public interest focus in the further development of the Internet.

While there is among many a tendency to see Internet development as mainly a technical development, this misses the significant role that the people who are online play in the continuing development of the Net. The Net and Netizens are actually a symbiotic development and it is such a perspective that helps to carry on the continuing spread and evolution of the Information Society goals.

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