Netizens or Webizens?

by @edent | # # # | 2 comments

Way back in the 1990s, the word “Netizen” was coined. I always took it to mean “someone who lives on the Internet”. In modern times, the neologism has been superseded with “webizen”.

  Chinese webizens are turning to ever more inventive methods to evade online censorship and spread the first-hand account of a Wuhan physician on the frontline of tackling Covid-19, writing it backwards, translating it into English, and even producing a Braille version.  The article, which was published on WeChat by People Magazine on 10 March, was “immediately deleted across the entire network”, according to a report from Radio Free Asia. But the deletions only began a game of cat and mouse with the censors, as users firstly began using classic methods, like sharing screenshots of the contents, and then moved on to more inventive ways of obfuscating the text, including translations into Braille, Morse Code, English and Emoji. Here’s a sample sentence: ❤芬曾🌶🗾‍🥘1⃣份🧣💗肺👁病👤‍💦病☠检测‍🐆🗻,她用红色👊出“SARS冠☄病☠”字🐑,当‍).  Other approaches included rewriting the entire text backwards, or writing it in “Martian”, by replacing every character with visually similar alternatives – so that the passage “艾芬曾拿到过一份不明肺炎病人的病毒检测报告” becomes the nonsense text “哎棼缯拿箌过┅份钚明肺燚病亡啲病蝳检测报告”. Eventually, RFA reports, even those articles were deleted.

I find this an interesting development. It is well known that people often confused the Net with the Web. Hence the need for these “explanatory” t-shirts:

Of course, the original meaning of Netizen was something quite different.

Netizens are the people who actively contribute online towards the development of the Net and discuss the nature and role of this new communications medium.
Netizens are people who decide to devote time and effort into making the Net, this new part of our world, a better place.
Lurkers are not Netizens, and vanity home pages are not the work of Netizens. While lurking or trivial home pages do not harm the Net, they do not contribute either.
CMC Magazine – 1996

So, I suppose, Webizen makes more sense. The Web has won. Nearly everything on the ‘Net uses HTTP to communicate. Ports 80 and 443 reign supreme.

Two thousand years ago, the proudest boast was civis romanus sum. Today, all free people, wherever they may live, are citizens of the Internet, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words “Ich bin ein Webizen!”

2 thoughts on “Netizens or Webizens?

  1. Reading the 1996 definition of netizen reminded me of the arguments re lurkers. The definition goes one way. I’ve always taken the opposite view. I think lurkers are immensely valuable. Cc @9600

  2. Mike says:

    Webizen and netizen are a bit like the using the cyber prefix for things related to the Internet, in that they sound somewhat ridiculous if used in earnest. Once upon a time they may have been useful to refer to a small group of people engaged in a niche activity, now it’s like having a special word for people who use electricity. That article by Alex Herne would make just as much sense if he said “Chinese citizens” instead of “Chinese webizens”.

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