The questions, “what does citizenship look like in the age of the internet and what new citizen “duties” are emerging on the social web” keep running in my mind every time I consider the monster called social networking or how much the web and technology has gone beyond borders.
When I think of citizenship on the Web, it is not in the conventional “national citizen” sense. Rather, citizenship takes on a broader, and perhaps equally important, meaning: internet citizens.
The ‘Netizens‘are people who have a stake in the evolving content and character of the Web.
In this sense, internet users are citizens in a world of ideas, participants in an ongoing knowledge and value (in the “societal values” sense) creation experiment.
Although language, technology access and literacy, and censorship still represent barriers for some, the conversation is increasingly global.
The on-line world is a democratic space. People “vote” in this space by consuming, responding to (by commenting on blogs), sharing, promoting (within ranking systems like Digg) and creating content.
Like more traditional democratic spaces, the web favors those who engage, those who say and do things, over those who do not; people who engage have a say in shaping the online world. It is worth noting that, like other democratic spaces, some have more influence, “more of a vote”, than others because of structural and other factors (like what sites a search engine ranking algorithm favors).
The Internet is saturated with information – actually too much for any one individual to sort through and crowded with competing narratives. The information and narratives that bubble up to the top become public “knowledge”.
The content that surfaces (e.g. the first page of Google results on a given topic) might be taken to represent a sort of consensus on what is “valuable”, maybe even what’s “true”.
With this in mind, I assume that engagement on the internet is perhaps, like civic engagement in the off-line world, a “duty” of citizenship.
If we want our values to be reflected in the presiding culture, if we want the best information to rise to the top, we have to assert ourselves through all of the mechanisms available to us. And they are quite many.
In this e-world; while many consume content, fewer share it and fewer yet, actively promote or create it. This is worrying though. Why?
Because many quarters of the internet are effectively “dictatorships of the loud” - people who create content often and are good at promoting it, disproportionately impact the conversation regardless of how sound their ideas are. The inane or fluffy often wins out over the useful or profound.
You do not have to be the most expert person on many of the subjects to write on, but because by writing you are having your say- voting. I figure it is the least one can do to help shape the Internet, and the World that we have all been thrashed in.
The rights and responsibilities of the world citizenship are changing, and we need to be educated at every level on how and why to engage through open government channels.
Emmanuel Nyagapfizi is a Management Information Systems manager