In 2006, Time Magazine made an interesting choice for person of the year. The person was “you” meaning more specifically, people who use the Internet to write articles, post videos or blogs, and contribute to different Internet groups. Essentially, the “you” referred to another word that has become more frequently used in the past few years, “netizen.” A netizen is a person who becomes part of and participates in the larger Internet society, which recognizes few boundaries save language. The word comes from the combination of the terms Internet and citizen.
Netizens may contribute to specific groups around their interest, which can significantly vary. User groups might have a political focus, be based on fan interest in a person, films or books. They are usually specific to a certain topic and they are driven by netizen participation. It would be difficult to imagine a successful user group or blog where no discussion took place.
Netizens may also organize a group through a variety of different Internet resources in order to accomplish something. In the 1990s, The Children’s Health Information Network (TCHIN), an online community, used the participation of users on the Internet and outside of it, to petition governors of each state to declare February 14 as Congenital Heart Disease Awareness Day. Since netizens in this group came from all over the United States, finding people to petition for this cause was quite easy. Within a year or two, most states issued proclamations for a CHD day on February 14. Since sometimes these proclamations had to be declared by state governors each year, netizens from the same state would cooperate to make the necessary legal petitions on a yearly basis.
A netizen doesn’t always have to accomplish something big, vital or important. Some trends in Internet groups are to do something completely frivolous. For instance, television personality and comic newscaster, Stephen Colbert, has used his netizen fans in order to have his name placed on various new buildings, or given to endangered animals. Through both his show and his website, Colbert starts various campaigns that tend to be successful and accomplish very silly aims.
Politicians have certainly become aware of the power of the Internet in organizing people, and you won’t find many political candidates for higher office that don’t have a significant Internet presence. They use the Internet to campaign, explain their positions on issues, to rally interested netizens, to ask for their volunteer work and donations, and to apprise people of upcoming events. A netizen might be an active participant in the political process in a way not possible when most contact with people at a distance from each other came down to phone calls.
Today what a netizen contributes to a group may be read and seen by a much larger group of people, and may be influential. Sites that rate new blogsites or articles, like Digg.com help other people weigh in on what articles are most valuable or important. It’s quite an accomplishment for a netizen to create something that gets “dugg” by a number of people. This means a lot of people will view this netizen’s creation.
The Internet has been called the global community, and it is true to an extent that people from different countries are able to participate on the Internet and perhaps reach toward global aims. Language and strong political beliefs can divide the global community, but at its best the Internet offers the netizen the opportunity to be more fully a citizen of the world, in addition to being a citizen of his or her own country.