9/11 Effects on the Net

Reflection and commemoration were prominent September 11 anniversary activities as Nielsen//NetRatings measured increased Internet traffic to related sites.

“Many Americans commemorated the anniversary of September 11 in various ways, online and offline,” said Carolyn Clark, Internet analyst, Nielsen//NetRatings. “The online community helped surfers share their thoughts and wishes with special tribute sites and memorials to remember the day.”

Nearly 455,000 unique visitors logged on from home and another 376,000 from the office to the Yahoo tribute page on Wednesday, September 11 as compared to 173,000 surfers the day before, representing a 163 percent jump.

Data for the week ending September 8 shows a significant jump in traffic to various greeting card sites as well. Blue Mountain attracted nearly 1.2 million surfers, with 437,000 unique visitors visiting the special 9/11memorial quilt page. The site’s traffic jumped 130 percent, claiming the top spot for the fastest growing brand at home for the week.

AmericanGreetings.com drew more than 777,000 surfers at work, rising 56 percent, while Blue Mountain also attracted 872,000 office workers for the week, with more than 17 percent of the site’s traffic visiting the 9/11 memorial quilt page. Hallmark rounded out the list of fastest growing greeting card sites at work, posting a 36 percent increase to 667,000 unique visitors.

Increased traffic to related sites was just one indicator of how the events of Sept. 11 impacted the Internet. Pew Internet & American Life surveyed 2,501 American adults during June and July 2002 about how online behavior had changed since the 9/11 attacks, and found that 2 percent of Internet users say the amount of time they go online has been directly affected in a major way by the 9/11 attacks. They are evenly divided between those who say the attacks have prompted them to go online more and those who say the attacks have provoked them to go online less. Since the attacks, about 8 million more Americans have gone online for the first time.

When Pew asked about several possible activities that Internet users could perform on the first anniversary of the attacks, 22 percent of said they will send email to friends or family about 9/11; 12 percent said they will visit commemorative Web sites; 10 percent were going to Web sites to read others’ opinions on the anniversary; and 5 percent said they will post their own thoughts about the anniversary on a Web site bulletin board, in a chat room, or on an email listserv.

The survey also showed that 19 million Americans (17 percent of Internet users) rekindled relationships after the 9/11 attacks by sending email to family members, friends, former colleagues and others that they had not contacted in years. The majority (83 percent) of those who renewed contact with others have maintained those relationships through the past year.

Pew’s analysis revealed that significant numbers of American Internet users say they are using email more often, gathering news online more often, visiting government Web sites more often, giving more donations via the Internet, and seeking health and mental health information more often because of the 9/11 attacks.

Steven Schneider, co-director of WebArchivist.org, the group that collects sites for september11.archive.org, noted that the immediacy of the Web and its power to create a sense of community were evident right after the attacks and the year since.

“The scale of the response on the Web to the attacks was unprecedented – and the value of the Web has never been clearer. Our initial review of the archive gives us powerful examples of how government agency Web sites became clearinghouses for information and relief efforts, how do-it-yourself journalism by amateurs flourished, how religious sites tended to their members, and how the virtual public square was teeming with commentary, expressions of grief, and patriotism,” said Schneider.

Pew’s research found that 47 percent of Americans believe the government should not have the right to monitor people’s Internet use, while 45 percent disagree. A majority of Internet users oppose government monitoring of people’s email and Web activities, and they don’t believe that removing government information from the Internet will help battle terrorism.

“The trauma of 9/11 continues to have a profound effect on what some people do online and on their views about the kind of information that should be available on the Web,” says Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet Project. “They are willing to give up their access to important information if officials argue the public’s right to know is in conflict with the goal of combating terrorists. At the same time, many Americans are wary of anti-terror policies that would result in government monitoring of private citizens’ online activities.”

A September 2002 Harris Interactive survey of 2,203 online adults found that support for Internet monitoring has fallen steadily over the last year. A year ago, 63 percent were in favor of chat room and forum monitoring by law enforcement officials. This support fell to 55 percent six months ago, and the latest survey revealed that only 42 percent were in favor of monitoring. A similar decline was found in support for expanded government monitoring of cell phones and email correspondence. A year ago 54 percent favored this, and six months later it had fallen to 44 percent; it is now down to 32 percent.

Interestingly, retaining “individual rights and freedoms” was the main concern for 1,100 students ages 8-18 in a survey conducted in August 2002 and performed by Harris Interactive regarding post-9/11 concerns.

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