“Netizens”, a constructed noun that describes the online citizen. A person who has an opinion about something that is posted online. It’s a word that is primarily used by the traditional press in Asia (especially in Singapore and China). But the question is, who are these “netizens”? Are they internet trolls? Are they anarchists? Are they the anonymous opinion? Are they commentators? A mob? Are they the “morality police”? Or can I offer up an alternative definition?
Netizens are nothing but ordinary people. Yes, a representation of ordinary people, who happen to be online at the moment. They are human beings, and as diverse as Asia itself. Some of them are trolls, some are avid commentators, some casually opinionated, some are topic specific contributors. All of them are individuals. To see “netizens” as a separate group of people from society shows a complete lack of understanding of how digital culture surrounds us. “Everyone”* is online. Some more than others, but more and more people are spending more and more time online. They live a life that happens in the offline world and online. To dismiss them as a uniform group of people who “get together” on certain subject is negligent at best – and manipulative at its core.
For anyone to refer to netizens and their opinions as an input into a current debate can be fair, if there seems to be a general consensus for that view, but then only with the caveat that the opinions are not necessarily representative of the view of the general population, or even a group of individuals. For a newspaper or media outlet to quote what “netizens” have said, is lazy, sloppy and plain bad journalism. In fact, it is a journalistic trend to ask people with no expert knowledge or who have not witnessed an event and treat them as they have something meaningful to say. Quoting people online is an even lazier form than that.
Of course, there are many idiots out there, spewing out their hatred for other people. And there are others, who latch on to each other’s comments to judge other people. These are all trolls, and not representative for the general person online. The general online user is 7-100 years old. A man, a female or a transgender person. He or she is straight or gay or somewhere in-between. Could be conservative or a socialist, a communist, an environmentalist, a liberal, an anarchist – or any other political persuasion. They could be sporty or lazy, food lovers or health fanatics. Cat lovers, dog lovers, goat lovers or dislike pets all together. They could be atheists, christians, muslim, hindu, buddhists, scientologists, or any other religion or cult. They can be of any ethnicity, speak any language and belong to any culture. They could listen to any kind of music. They could be married, single, dating, engaged, divorced, separated, just living together, living with their parents or children and so on. Anyway, I think you are starting to get my point.
The “netizen” is just like me and you. In fact they are you and me. So let’s stop addressing them as a group. Let’s stop quoting them as an authority. And let’s stop blaming them for whatever someone else has said online. Everyone is only responsible for their own statements and opinions.
*Everyone is not online. According to the World Bank, the internet penetration in Singapore is 73% and only 44% in all of East Asia and Pacific. There are large groups of people who don’t have access to the internet, and many of them never will. But that’s a topic for another blogpost. In this context “everyone” is online.
Erik Ingvoldstad is the Founder & CEO of Acoustic.
Follow Erik on Twitter @ingvoldSTAR, follow Acoustic at @AcousticGroupSG
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