Commentary

How America Used The Net In Crisis

How America Used The Net In Crisis

Last week we reported preliminary studies on media sources sought for information immediately following the terrorist attacks, and several readers had relevant comments and questions. Not coincidentally, Pew Research released additional timely information based on the findings of their daily tracking survey on Americans' use of the Internet between September 12th and 13th, among a sample of 1,226 adults, 18 and older.

As previously reported, Americans, including Internet users, relied mostly on TV for their news, and the phone primarily for their communication needs. But for many online Americans, the Internet played a supplemental role as a communications tool - through their use of email and instant messaging - and as a news source.

81% of all Americans say they got most of their information from TV and there was no statistical difference between Internet users and nonusers in their reliance on TV news. About 11% of Americans say they got most of their information from radio and again there is no difference between the responses of Internet users and nonusers. Only 3% of Internet users say they got most of their information about the attacks from the Internet.

However, in the two days after the terror attack, 74% of all Americans reached out to loved ones and friends by the phone or by the Internet. 82% of Internet users used the phone or email to make contact.

On the day of the attack, 51% of American adults phoned family members and 40% phoned friends. Internet users were more likely than non-Internet users to be using the phone to reach out to potential victims.

On that day, 15% of Internet users sent email about the crisis to family members and 12% sent email to friends. More women did this than men. In addition, 6% of Internet users sent instant messages to someone on Tuesday, which is about the same level of use of instant messaging that takes place on any given day online.

60 million adults hung a flag outside their homes. 35 million people attended a religious service. 30 million people gave a donation. 11% tried to give blood, and 11% went to a meeting to discuss the attacks.

Normally, between 55% and 58% of Internet users are online on any given day. In the two days immediately following the attacks, 51% of Internet users were online. At the same time, those using the Internet spent a bit more time online than is usual.

Overall, 36% of Internet users went online looking for news in the first two days after the attacks. On Tuesday alone, 29% of Internet users - or more than 30 million people - sought news online. That is one-third greater than the normal news-seeking population on a typical day online.

In the 48 hours after the crisis, 13% of Internet users "attended" virtual meetings or participated in virtual communities by reading or posting comments in chat rooms, online bulletin boards, or email list servers. On a typical day only 4% of online Americans visit chat rooms.

35% of those Internet users who tried to place calls on Tuesday had trouble getting through, and a fifth of them turned to the Internet to make contact. That comes to between 4-5 million people who turned to the Internet in lieu of phones.

29% of Internet users tried to get news of the crisis online on the day of the attacks. 43% of them said they had problems getting to the sites they wanted. Of those who had trouble, 41% kept trying; 38% went to other sites; 19% gave up. Many news sites recognized this problem quickly and redesigned their pages to strip out graphics, ads, and other time-consuming download features.

A quarter of Internet users were multitasking on Tuesday by having the TV or radio on while they were surfing or sending email.

Some 30% of Internet users say the Internet helped them learn what was going on in the first days, and 29% say the Internet helped them connect with people they needed to reach.

The final assessment: For some, the Internet was a help

More information is available from Pew Research

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