In Tragedy, Internet Stands Strong

As news of the World Trade Center and Pentagon terror attacks spread, people across the globe frantically tried to reach their friends and loved ones.

Much of the U.S. telephone infrastructure was pushed to the brink, and many calls did not get through. But the Internet was up to the challenge.

Although Web site performance dropped considerably in the moments immediately following news of the attack, performance improved quickly, reaching 94 percent reliability after the first hour, according to data released by Matrix.net, a company that measures Internet performance.

For many, e-mail and instant messaging services proved the most effective ways of reaching people.

"The Internet has once again proven itself a particularly useful communications tool in times of emergency," said John S. Quarterman, chief technical officer of Matrix.net.

It's also possible that the Internet will eventually be able to provide clues. AOL and Earthlink have been served with "surveillance orders" by the FBI, apparently looking for Internet and e-mail traffic potentially connected to the attacks.

Reaching Out

Paul Cohen, a director with public relations firm Burson Marsteller who recently moved from New York to Beijing, said repeated efforts to reach friends and family in New York by phone proved fruitless, but that soon after sending a message, he received word via e-mail that his friends and loved ones were OK.

"Apart from a few phone calls, I have discovered the status of friends and colleagues almost entirely via e-mail," Cohen said.

Web sites have also sprung up allowing people to find solace and needed information. Today, the National "I'm Okay" Message Center was created, allowing people to post their names and locations to inform friends and family that they are safe.

Across the Web, chat sites, news groups and bulletin boards served hundreds of millions of pages, as people across the globe expressed sympathy and outrage.

While many of the pages were filled with vitriol and racism toward Arabs, many more were evidence of the global outpouring of support and sympathy for the victims:

"I wish there was something more I/we could do here," wrote a user from Canada called Pheonixnovember on an ABCNEWS.com bulletin board. "My heart goes out to all those directly impacted by this tragedy."

"I had been following the news coverage all along," wrote another user, Tiger_leo from Hong Kong. "My heart goes out for all the people who lost their loved ones in this tragedy. I am not a religious person but today I pray for the American people. May the people who lost their lives rest in peace."

Tales and Conspiracies

Others found in these sites a place to tell personal tales, and to find support from others who may have lost friends or relatives, and others went to the Net to find ways to help or to beseech others to support victims by providing monetary donations or blood.

Conspiracy theorists were also active on bulletin boards and news groups, dispersing all manner of hypotheses on the causes and perpetrators of the attacks. While most if not all of these theories are easily disregarded, it's too early to say if any held a kernel of truth.