Using the Web to Overcome Terror. (Internet Express)

By McDermott, Irene E. | Searcher, January 2002 | Go to article overview

Using the Web to Overcome Terror. (Internet Express)


McDermott, Irene E., Searcher


It has been said that new media came of age during our recent wars. In the 1960s, television defined Vietnam. I know that I grew up on Walter Cronkite and the war on the evening news. CNN brought us around-the-clock coverage of the Gulf War in 1991. Who can forget the video of "smart bombs" heading straight into enemy air ducts? It was so "Luke Skywalker." And finally, the Internet proved invaluable during the recent attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Distributed messaging via the TCP/IP protocol was conceived nearly 40 years ago by the U.S. military as a way to maintain communications in the event of attacks against the U.S. By breaking up messages into little packets, the military could route them around any destruction caused by hostile acts and keep in contact.

On September 11, 2001, the Internet proved itself in a test of its original purpose. When cell phone service failed in lower Manhattan, emergency crews could still communicate via e-mail and Instant Messaging. After the attacks, Americans turned to the Web for the latest information. And although major news sites were overwhelmed by the response, the Web itself experienced no major slowdown due to damage to critical fiber optic lines or overuse of those lines by information seekers. It really worked!

On that fateful day, we sat transfixed in front of live television images of the Twin Towers burning, orange and gray against the clear blue sky. Then the Towers seemed to peel open and slide down like deadly black lilies. Intellectually, we understood that we were watching thousands die, but it looked like a movie and we just couldn't believe it.

We felt like the American GI who, after the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, remarked, "I didn't even know they were sore at us."

We craved answers, a framework to make sense of what happened. Yet, after that first day, the broadcast media offered mostly jingoism and hysteria. FoxNews.com carries the interactive "War on Terror," while MSNBC borrowed a Star Wars theme with its "America Strikes Back" coverage. Their headlines make it sound as though our country were engaged in a kind of computer game or fantasy film. When I watch or read the mainstream news, I feel as if I am listening through a wall with a cup to my ear. I understand some words, but mostly, I hear buzzy tones, as if the media were broadcasting through a tissue-covered comb.

It is bad enough that the attacks seemed so unreal. Does the coverage have to seem that way too? My patrons and I want analysis of important social and political issues: Why did this happen? What makes these people so murderously angry -- really? Fortunately for us, in this war we don't have to rely on what the broadcast media feeds us. We have the Web to turn to for background information, analysis, and alternative points of view. The Web can help us satisfy our urge to reach out: to communicate, to remember, and to make our own sense of this tragedy.

Remember the Day

As the months pass, the original shock of the events of September 11 fades, especially for those who live far away from the site of the attacks. You can refresh your memory of the chronology -- and the horror -- of the day at these sites.

Screenshots of Online News Sites, September 11/12, 2001

http://www.interactivepublishing.net/september/index.php

"The Web has nomemory--unless it is created." And so Norbert Specker, of Zurich, Switzerland's contentsummit [http://www.contentsummit.com/] and interactivepublishing [http://www.interactivepublishing.net/] has collected screen shots from news sites around the world from those fateful days. Browse through four at a time or search for particular ones by publication, country, or time.

Poynter.org: Covering the Attacks

http://www.poynter.org/Terrorism/gallery/Wednesday1. htm

View hundreds of front pages of newspapers as they appeared on the day after the attacks.

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