Sunday October 7, 2001
7:33 pm Eastern Time

Internet bustles, telephones buzz after U.S. strikes

NEW YORK, Oct 7 (Reuters) - The Internet lit up with patriotic fervor and nuanced debate as the public reacted to Sunday's military strikes on Afghanistan, and telephone use, which spiked following the Sept. 11 attacks, rose modestly.

``We saw a jump in volume across the entire of the AT&T networks,'' said Dave Johnson, spokesman for network services at AT&T Corp (NYSE:T - news). ``When the networks started to talk about the bombings, it went up just a little bit, and then dropped off a bit when the president made the address to the nation.''

On the Internet, discussions took on a heated, if often crude, tone, with messages pouring in at a rate of dozens a minute on some popular sites, such as (NasdaqNM:YHOO - news).

Many discussions focused on Osama Bin Laden, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, and whether the United States was justified in using military force in Afghanistan.

Nuanced debate about the merits of war, however, was often overshadowed by crude remarks, many against Muslims and Arabs, made under the relative anonymity of online pseudonyms.

``You get more nuance. You also get a lot more ugliness,'' said Sreenath Sreenivasan, assistant professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and founder of the Online Journalism Awards.

One chat room participant, who identified himself as a member of the U.S. National Guard based in Missouri, said he turned to online chat rooms to share his vitriol for Osama Bin Laden.

Another person writing in a chat room geared to armed service members admonished other participants to ``be careful what you say here soldiers,'' adding that enemies ``watch these too.''

Discussion groups were formed for military aficionados, Muslims and Arab-Americans, and on Yahoo, one group catered to the spouses and partners of active-duty soldiers.

Aside from discussion, the Internet also offered instant updates and alternate perspectives on the day's events. Pakistani newspapers, Afghan information sites, and one-person publishers, including Matt Drudge, were relied upon by many as supplements to non-stop coverage on cable television.

``I think the audience today is much better informed than in '91'' during the Gulf War, Sreenivasan said.

On that day, when hijacked jetliners toppled New York's Twin Towers, the Internet became a key medium for communications, as overtaxed telephone lines failed to stand up to demand.

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