During the remainder of the month after September 11, the number of Internet users who sought to get news online increased by about 25 percent, even though Internet use for some other purposes (such as shopping or sending e-mail) declined. Indeed, survey data indicate that the total number of Internet users declined by about 10 percent in the week immediately following September 11 (see Table 3.1).

Even given the surge in demand for online news, all the evidence is that Internet users, in the same proportion as the general population, preferred to get their news from television. A poll by the Pew Project showed that in the week after September 11, television was the main source of information for 79 percent of Americans and for 80 percent of the heaviest Internet users (see Table 3.2). Heavy Internet users relied on the Internet as much as on radio and newspapers, while Americans overall relied on the radio and newspapers far more than they depended on the Internet.

One possible reason for this seeming contradiction—high online demand for news and high reliance of Internet users on television—is that once they were home from work (where they relied largely on the Internet) on September 11, most people turned on their television sets and got the latest news without having to go online for further information. Another possible reason was frustration with the Internet: 43 percent of Internet users reported at least some trouble accessing Web sites in the first hours after the attacks, and 15 percent reported great difficulties.10 Yet another possible reason is that news organizations generally do not provide live streaming video programming.11 In the end, about a fifth of those who had difficulty reaching a site gave up on using the Internet for news during that period.12

Another important point is that many people appear to have used the Internet not as a replacement for regular news sources but as a supplement. Major search engines reported that the information sought by users changed dramatically on September 11 and in the following days. For example, on September 12, a number of talk shows mentioned Nostradamus, a Renaissance writer renowned for his prophecies. Thereafter, “Nostradamus” was at the top of the list or near the top at many popular search engines; at Yahoo, for example, it was number 1.13 Google

10  

Raime and Kalsnes, 2001, The Commons of the Tragedy.

11  

A scalable technology known as multicast could support streaming video to large numbers of viewers, but it is not commonly employed by content providers.

12  

Raime and Kalsnes, 2001, The Commons of the Tragedy.

13  

Google <http://www.google.com/press/zeitgeist/9-11-search.html>; Yahoo <http://websearch.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?site=http://buzz.yahoo.com/>; Lycos <http://websearch.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?site=http://50.lycos.com/091101%5FSpecial.html>.



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