The term Netizen is a portmanteau of the words Internet and citizen as in "citizen of the net". It describes a person actively involved in online communities or the Internet in general. The term commonly also implies an interest and active engagement in improving the Internet, making it an intellectual and a social resource, or its surrounding political structures, especially in regard to open access, net neutrality and free speech. Netizens are also commonly referred to as cybercitizens, which has similar connotations.
The term was widely adopted in the mid-1990s as a way to describe those who inhabit the new geography of the Internet. Internet pioneer and author Michael F. Hauben is credited with coining and popularizing the term.
Hauben describes the distinction to Internet users in general by saying:
In Chinese, the terms wǎngmín (网民, literally "net-people") and wǎngyǒu (网友, literally "net-friend") are commonly used terms meaning "Internet users", and the English word "Netizen" is used by mainland China-based English language media to translate both terms, resulting in the frequent appearance of that English word in media reporting about China, far more frequently than the use of the word in other contexts.
The international nonprofit organization Reporters Without Borders awards an annual Netizen Prize in recognition to an Internet user, blogger, cyber-dissident, or group who has helped to promote freedom of expression on the Internet. The organization uses the term when describing the political repression of cyber-dissidents such as legal consequences of blogging in politically repressive environments.