The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Thursday June 8th

Internet Changes Awareness of War

The Internet has given new access to information, both true and false, after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

As the United States prepares for its first war of the 21st century, Americans have come face-to-face with the positive and negative effects of having a vast amount of information available almost instantaneously.

Internet users have been able to get information and first-person accounts of the attacks via the Internet -- and Internet experts say Americans have been taking advantage of the opportunity.

"Afterward, most users could pretty easily find information they think is useful," said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet and Life Project. "After the attacks, there were tremendous amounts of surfing."

Dick Meyer, editing director of, said the site received 10 times its normal traffic in the hours after the attacks, and technicians had to bring in additional servers.

But the increased amount of information also means the U.S. government has less direct power over what information its citizens receive.

For example, information shared by U.S. officials with British Prime Minister Tony Blair was posted on the British government's Web site even though it had not been directly shared with the American people, said Deb Aikat, UNC professor of journalism and mass communication.

Some have expressed concern that although the Internet gives people a forum to express their opinions, the plethora of information provided on the Internet can be misleading.

Paul Jones, UNC clinical professor of journalism and mass communication, said the Internet allows a group to express its views to a mass audience. "There is a growing number of people who do not want war, and they're using the net to get their point across," Jones said.

But Lee McKnight, professor of international communications at Tufts University, said rumors and falsehoods spread faster because of the Internet. "There are all kinds of crazy rumors out there, and rumors can propagate faster on the Internet, but those rumors can also be shot down faster on the Internet."

Numerous e-mails have circulated on the Web containing possibly false information, including possible terrorist attacks.

But Rainie said the nature of the Internet allows false information to be disproved quickly. "We do know of the self-policing mechanism of the Internet," Rainie said. "When people do bad things, others will rise against them. At the end of the day, the more voices heard, the more information, the better off we'll be."

McKnight said the Internet has come under fire primarily because it is still new. "The Internet is a tool that we use in modern society. Some evil people will use it to do bad things," McKnight said. "The truth is coming out faster on the Internet than any other medium."

Some experts encourage Internet users to be discreet in sources they use.

Jones said news sources help separate facts from rumors and paint a more accurate picture of a global story. "Readers can see how news is reported in other countries. It's not restricted to U.S. news sources," Jones said. "The net is the world's largest newsstand."

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