01663: The Abuse of the Term Netizen

My contacts on social media should already know that I have a major beef by local media's constant misuse of the term "netizen" in headlines and lead stories everywhere. It's a weird enough portmanteau on its own, but its implied meaning (it's not exactly a dictionary word just yet) is not how our journalists are using the term. If anything, it has become a buzz word that probably makes editors feel like they sound cool and hip and in touch with their readers. In this age of dying paper media, everyone is in a race to appear more social than the other after all.

The term "netizen" was perhaps "officially" coined by one Michael Hauben in his 1997 book Netizens: On the History and Impact of Usenet and the Internet (Perspectives) but some may argue its use dates back to 1984. In the opening paragraphs he welcomes the reader as "a citizen of the world" given the netizen is born out of the terms "internet" and "citizen". But saying you are a netizen, you are claiming to be part of the virtual nation that is the internet as a whole. More often than not, your discussions are related to the continued need for the internet to be free thus issues like online censorship and net neutrality become rather important to your average netizen.

However when you read local headlines, the use of netizen is limited to "someone who uses the internet" or perhaps "a Filipino who expresses his opinion online". I say this given the slant of all these articles is related to how these internet users are talking about local issues like the PDAF scam or the anti-cybercrime law. I think things hit the last straw for me when we describe how many participants of the Million People March are in fact netizens. But are they still netizens when they've met in person and have seen one another face to face?

To be fair, there is not "official" definition of the term unless you accept the usages of Hauben as your primary guide. Therefore, its usage will follow whatever the majority whims it to be. But when you look at international media and go back and look at our news stories, you'll notice that we're a bit more netizen-obsessed than most others. The only term that is accepted to be worse at this point is webinar, but I won't get into the hate for that term just yet.

I just feel that the use of the term netizen sends the wrong message. Here you have a bunch of Filipinos using the internet in a meaningful way - to discuss national issues and debate the merits of one law or another. This is not a bad thing - so why don't we try to associate this directly with the fact these users are Filipinos? Do we somehow feel it is more "accurate" from a journalistic point of view to assume that all these people talking about what goes on in this country are indeterminate anonymous internet users who just happen speak Filipino and cite references to local problems like traffic and faulty storm drains?

Why must we claim that protest actions are the Million People March were the result of a special class of citizen that we term as netizen in the same way many claim that the second EDSA revolution was triggered by texting?  Are we so desperate to somehow latch onto the fame of such social media driven revolutions as the one in Egypt (and let's not get into how the new government wasn't any better than the ousted one)? How can all these people be somehow anonymous represents of the greater virtual nation that is the world wide web when part of their protest actions include taking selfies?

Let's just say "Filipinos on the internet" or "Filipino internet users" and the like - at least we get to step our our nationalism efforts a little bit and we claim full rights to what we've accomplished both online and offline. For your journalists out there, think about the benefit of adding 1-2 more words to your article word count as opposed to sounding all awkward and ultimately annoying by using the term netizen.

It's win-win for all of us, really.