The Web community reacts to a national disaster

by Jason SalasFriday, September 14, 2001

Online users, organizational Web sites, personal homepages reflect collective social conscience for a nation’s darkest day


What is now officially being called the worst disaster in the history of the United States of America has impacted us all. And the online community is responding, and in dramatic and supportive fashion. Never before in the 32-year history Internet has its constituency collectively reached out and together extended its feelings, sympathies, generosity, hope…and relief. What we’re seeing is a growing social conscience, shared by all. And because of the rampant demands for information…a glimmer of hope is being spread throughout the Web.

I’ve been on the Web without rest since the attacks started, being my news station’s liaison for online newsfeeds, both in- and outbound. This is because I know that (1) it’s my duty being in the business of online news to provide whatever information I can that will help someone, or give someone piece of mind, and (2) no matter how lethargic, frustrated, upset, or dejected I feel…I know this is nothing compared to what countless citizens feel non-stop in the mainland.

I have been watching television coverage from just about everybody, and have visited more than 800 sites in the last two days, seeing the changes site managers are making…for a cause. At one point I was clicking randomly on links, being transported off of their page and onto another by way of the hyperlink, and still seeing evidence of support, from both corporate and personal entities.

What I’ve witnessed is a movement, in the truest sense of the word…one towards helping, and trying to make things easier for those having to go face this tragedy head-on…because we can’t make it go away.

Normal barriers and lines of delineation have been for the moment removed, as we come together as a nation and embrace those we still have with us, grieve those who we have lost, pray for those still missing, and give hope to those risking their own lives, hoping against hope that they may save another human being.


Everyone does their part to tell the story
Sites that deal with the distribution of industry-specific news and entertainment information have foregone the marketing of their primary products, and have gotten involved as ad hoc terrorism attack news providers themselves, offering the most important commodity in today’s culture – information. MTV, ESPN, CNet’s affiliate sites and countless others have turned into This alongside the content-sharing and headline syndication efforts of sites like MSNBC.com, CNN.com, WashingtonPost.com, NYTimes.com…many of which themselves partnered up cooperatively in the first few hours to provide any kind of information, suspending competition and putting aside rivalries---to be human and help. Doing the right thing – taking a back seat to crass capitalism and showing corporate citizenship and responsibility – is the mantra of the day.

Already banners have been spreading throughout the Web encouraging the efforts of the brave men and women who volunteered their lives in the hope of saving others in New York City. And there is a plethora of resources to help like the “I’m OK” message board on Prodigy, the Disaster Message Service, Berkeley’s PeopleFinder, and NY.com’s World Trade Center Survivor Database for people wanting to confirm hope to anxious loved ones.

And the amounts by which big businesses – most notably Amazon.com and its initiatives to aid in the America Red Cross’s nationwide fundraising and blood drive projects – have reacted is staggering. As of the time of this writing, Amazon.com has raised more than $3,500,000 from more than 100,000 users in 36 hours since launching its program. Other corporations have done their part, as GE has taken similar actions, funding $10 million in relief and assistance, and providing information and assistance for its employees through its homepage, for those wanting to find out where to volunteer, donate blood, and make a difference. Cisco Systems has also done its part by generating millions and reports that support drives have been cascading through company intranets since the attack initially occurred indicated several more million in aid.

Also worthy of note is the reporting of information – be it as a beacon of hope…or that bit of information no one ever wants to receive. News.com reported that Akamai Technolgy, Raytheon Company, Metrocall, MRV Communications, Netegrity (a company which one of my best friends and business partners works for), Oracle, eLogic, Raytheon Company, Sun Microsystems, NextWave Telecom, BEA Systems and 3Com, Netegrity also lost valued personnel, and so many others have also suffered devastating losses. Companies whose Web sites were quick to post this tragic information online.


Individuals chip in as well
And from the personal, non-enterprise page community, the concern for the cause is just as great. Many personal or hobbyist-oriented sites abandoned their banner advertisement schemes, or put up banners in memoriam of those senselessly lost because of the attack, and asked to join a nation in support of charities such as Feed The Children and the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, or in many cases even donating the revenue earned with banner ads to the Red Cross with this growing concern multiply exponentially throughout the various subgenres of each site’s following.


A changing mood
The collective mood from many online participants in chatrooms, discussion forums, message boards and other types of interactive exhibits swayed from being horror and encouragement to rage and disdain. It would be foolish of us to think that this trend would not continue, and that it would worsen - considerably. I expect the volume of personal anger-based pages to reach the millions level within the next 60 days.

And speaking as someone who has been directly involved in the Web for a long time – this is truly a remarkable thing. Never before has the prolific wealth of data that is the World Wide Web moved so quickly towards a common theme. The medium that redefined capitalism and modern competition has now become a large cooperative…with more members joining by the hour. It’s not about exposure---it’s about doing the right thing. That people and firms are putting all things aside – schedules, contracts, tradition, competition, prior commitments…proves just how tragic this disaster really is on our great nation.

I’m proud to be a member of the online community…but more than anything today, I’m proud to be an American.

I hope you are, too.

Normal barriers and lines of delineation have been for the moment removed, as we come together as a nation and embrace those we still have with us, grieve those who we have lost, pray for those still missing, and give hope to those risking their own lives, hoping against hope that they may save another human being.
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