Introduction

 These are notes in progress on 911 and not an official part of the PhD thesis.

After completing my data collection  for this study a very significant world event took place, namely the events of September 11th 2001 in New York City, where two passenger jets were crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre, causing both of them to collapse. 

Text-based chatrooms give any person with an Internet connection the opportunity to become a news reporter. Whether it is a disaster, sporting event or any newsworthy occurrence, the first online chat-utterance can be the first knowledge of an event made available worldwide. Before CNN, ABC or any other news service can file a report and get it to air, eye witness accounts are sent to chatrooms, emails, discussion groups. As I have argued throughout this study it is often impossible to know who a  chatter is or to assess the validity of his or her statement. However, when someone enters  a chatroom or discussion group and states that a plane has just crashed into the World Trade Centre in New York City, everyone who is witness to that statement  wants to know more. Since the technologisation or social insertion of news reporting into everyday experience itself rests heavily on the authenticity and validity of the  “eye witness account”, the extension of the same “author-ity” within a live-chat communicative relation carries much the same expectation of veracity – and the added capacity for interaction and questioning and response overcomes the problems of anonymity and a known culture of deceit. The unfolding of the World Trade Centre events within chatroom discussion thus illustrates both the connection of this new communicative genre to the practices and techniques of earlier mediated informational flows, and its status as in itself a mediated  communicative form. So it is that this study finds it appropriate to conclude less with definitive claims for IRC as purely a new form of talk. It is, at the same time, a form constructed over audience experiences of mediated talk on radio, on television, and in written texts. It engages these forms into its flows of information, just as it appropriates and extends familiar techniques from live talk. And at moments such as this, when the relative “uneventfulness” so often noted in the seemingly pointless conversational flows of IRC is subverted by what Scannell has called the “eventfulness” of media: their tendency to arrange their flows around socially significant happenings – the duality of IRC’s positioning and enactment becomes much more apparent.

I have saved the data from three chatrooms running on September 11, and have also collected material from two bulletin boards[1], to compare with text-based chatroom material. I believe it is valuable data, which gives additional insight into how communication is modified by a sudden globally important event.

Chatrooms, discussion forums and emails are all different approaches to instant communication[2] and  a significant part of  on-line society today and in the future.  Each shows in its response to S11 the special features of online communication – but also the differences across formats. Even at moments of off-line crisis, the online culture held, maintaining its distinctive communicative repertoires.

 

During the New York events of September 11 many people turned to the Internet for news[3] and chatrooms were fully occupied with people talking on this topic. Indeed, there is evidence that the sociality of the web as a communicative form was specifically sought out, as users, often isolated from direct contact with family or colleagues, felt the socio-psychological pull of the Internet’s affiliative services.  The moment in time that I have captured from the New York City Chat, may, therefore, be a microcosm of a chatroom conversation as it appears in an English speaking chatroom[4], at an intensified and so illustrative moment.

I viewed several chatrooms on the day of the September 11[5] events.  The chatters were talking about an event which began unfolding several hours earlier.  The first plane hit the WTC at 8 AM, and  this was chat  ‘captured’ from 14:56:36, 2001 until 16:16:52, with 644 turns and 4833 words of spoken text, covering 80 minutes.  The details which we now have a history of, were not known at the time. What was happening was not known. Who was involved was not known. In Australia these events took place during the  night and this captured dialogue was accessed at midnight in South Australia: a time when newsrooms were minimally staffed, and mostly  accessing equally minimal reports on stream from US sources – so that chat streams seemed closer to whatever the reality might be, than media flows. There were people in the  chatrooms from many countries and time varied for different chatters. However, just looking at this first chatroom, where the dialogue was notably  reduced from its usual performative and playful online repertoires and there were few questions asked or opinions offered, we see  there is a strong political element alongside expressions of fear and questions which attempt to clarify events.  

 

  This first data set is captured from a New York City chat site, www.superglobe.com/. This is a general unmoderated chatroom, and often when I have checked this chatroom there has been  no one in it. This chat is saved at: http://se.unisa.edu.au/september11/new_york_city_chat.htm.

A general chatroom, I am hypothesizing, one with no specific purpose at the start, can change rapidly in the face of a crisis. The chat log has been saved, beginning four hours preceding the second World Trade Centre Tower collapse[6] and for one hour and twenty minutes afterwards. The participants before the disaster were two Italian speaking people involved in what appears to be a sexual talk with one another. After the event, the chatroom filled with many participants, speaking mostly in English, from around the world. This was likely to be so because on September 11th it was the only site under the phrase ‘New York City Chat’ that appeared on the search engine Google. IRC users seeking the “authentic” news flow outlined above were predominantly directed to this site.

 

The chat below was copied (with permission) from http://www.superglobe.com/page2sep11.html. The lines below were entered in the chatroom at 10:49:54 on Tue Sep 11 2001. The translation into English below is from the search engine AltaVista’s Babelfish site. I would suggest that the words are difficult to translate into English because of the common miss spelling of words and abbreviations used, however the text is clear enough in its indication that the site is being used at this point simply as a convenient meeting place for personal chat. . What is perhaps most interesting is that the is chat below was taking place two hours after the New York City World Trade Centre crashes. However, since  there is no indication of what part of the world these people were in when they were carrying on their online dialogue, and since the earliest media flows were in English, they may have been unaware of the irony of their situation: “resident” in the one New York centred online space likely to be sought out by global chatters, intent on finding out “what was happening” in New York. It is perhaps a poignant reminder of the dis-placement involved in virtual communications, that online, what was happening in (online) New York was that two anonymous Italians from who knows where were negotiating a gay relationship.  . But If they were indeed in Italy it would have been 1.30 AM of the day of the events, which and it would not yet have been reported.  This poses a difficulty for a researcher making assumptions of chat talk; that of not knowing where the chatters are located. Why they are using a New York City chatroom is unknown. I would think that if they were living in New York City they would not be carrying on the same conversation now as they were when the emergency in New York had begun two and half hours earlier.

Italian

English

<1> di iniziare a preparare mia madre sul fatto che sono gay e che voglio stare con te, magari in email. Dice che sei tu quello che voglio e ha ragione. Non l'ho mai sentita cosi determinata.

to begin to prepare my mother on the fact that is gay and that I want to be with you, even in email. You say that six what I want and have reason. I have not never felt it cosi determined.

<2> TI AMO

I LOVE TO YOU 

<1> ti bagnerei prima di saliva tutto il corpo

I would bathe to you before salted all the body

The first line after the event of the second plane crashing into the World Trade Centre in this chatroom is as follows.

< b53>

are you afraid in New York?

 

The intensity of user demand for immediate and “authentic” information is reflected in the participation levels shown in the New York City Chat Log[7]. At times in this chatroom there were seventy lines of chat scrolling by per minute, after the event

 

Secondly, I have taken a sample of an edited-moderated text-based chatroom from the ABC News site,  which was online at 7.30 p.m. New York Time of the same day, ten hours after the event. ABC News’ Aviation specialist John Nance, a lieutenant colonel in the US Air Force reserve, is invited into the chatroom to answer questions.

The headline question to the chat began with:

How easy is it to hijack a plane? Are pilots trained to handle such a situation? ABCNEWS Aviation Analyst John Nance will answer your questions about today's events in a live chat at 7:30 p.m. ET If you have a question for John Nance, please type it in the space below and click on "Post Message."

 

Strictly speaking, to call this  a ‘chatroom’ is a misnomer. A person writes their message, which goes into a queue accessible only to the chat moderator, who selects and posts the answer by the ‘guest speaker’. The original text is rewritten by ABC editing staff.  So the space  is not only  moderated, but the text is also edited. This type of chatroom is called an edited-moderated chatroom, and operates as an information “deepening” flow associated with news services – but technically, in terms of the analysis of chat types revealed in this study, it is a specialist Bulletin Board, with heavy moderation. 

Thirdly, my example of an unmoderated chatroom, which I have used for comparision with the moderated edited chatroom, comes from www.afganchat.com/chatroom.htm. [8]  These two examples were captured  on the same day and the two chats can be seen next to each other on one page at:   http://se.unisa.edu.au/phd/moderated_unmoderated.htm

Finally, I have taken data from two different bulletin boards: the ‘Google’ Bulletin Board and the CNN Community Bulletin Board.  These are different from text-based chatrooms in the sense that they are non-synchronously-interactive, giving people the opportunity to post messages,  similar to ‘letters to the editor’ in newspapers. While users anticipate replies, and even debate, the act of posting does not anticipate and cannot receive immediate response, as is the case in IRC – or at least not usually. Here however, as can be seen from the logs of posting times, the exchange is as rapid, and formatted like, those of chat.

First then is  the first mention of the events in New York City in  one of Google’s tens of thousands of groups. 

From google groups

http://groups.google.com/groups?threadm=DNnn7.18524%24151.1610065%40bgtnsc05-news.ops.worldnet.att.net

Newsgroups: atl.arno

2001-09-11 05:51:48 PST <don> Plane crashed into World Trade Center near the top

2001-09-11 05:52:25 PST <bastard> WOW!!!! Watching right now. Scary!!!

 

2001-09-11 05:53:55 PST <don> They're saying it was maybe a passenger jet...horrible situation

 

2001-09-11 05:59:09 PST<bastard> I hope Terrorists aren't responsible.

 

2001-09-11 06:06:52 PST <don>  It sue looks like it now

 

2001-09-11 06:07:19 PST <bastard> Another Plane just hit. Two planes 18 mins

apart!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Table Postscript:Error! Bookmark not defined. First Google group entries on September 11 event

This exchange reflects both the unfolding of events – note the participular present in the tenses: “watching”, “saying” – and the expressiveness of the chatters’ emotional response, most evident in <bastard>’s repeated exclamation marks. The intermixing of conjectural work: “it was maybe…”; “su[r]e looks like…”; “I hope…”, captures the “reception” modes both known to be enacted in talk around media texts, and more recently noted as performed within media texts, news programming included. Here <don> and <bastard> present us with a representative sample of the many conversations happening on and off air, as news anchors, experts, and ordinary viewing and listening citizens, talked meaning into the unfolding narrative of S11. Chat is thus revealed as a processing genre: a new mediation, midway between informational flow, personal expression and the construction of social consensus.

 

But was this the central format enacted around S11? Secondly, I followed CNN-community, also  one of thousands of services, which provides chatrooms and discussion forums to the general public.  On one day, Tuesday, 25 September 2001, two-weeks after the attacks,  (see http://se.unisa.edu.au/phd/chapter3/CNN_com-discussions.htm) there were more than half a million (552,761) messages posted to the CNN community discussions area.  As CNN was one of thousands of discussion and chat sites where people were able to express themselves following the WTC bombings, it can only be assumed that millions of messages and turn taking dialogues were ‘spoken’ on the Internet on this day. I used an emergency chat discussion in case study 1, which centred on one area of crisis in one area, which affected, for the most part, one place in the world.   (I think there were probably quite a lot of nations who weren’t much affected Terrell: don’t buy into media hype at this late stage!)

America under attack (72,804 messages) in the ‘HOT TOPICS’ section was only exceeded by Guns under fire (77,402 messages).  Within chatroom services such as CNN chatroom and ICQ and IRC chatrooms and many yahoo chatrooms, there were many conversations regarding the events of September 11 2001. Two articles that sum up the feelings expressed at that time  rep[ort the following:  

Online chat ranges from hate to sympathy’ “Like many other Arab-Americans, Walid Besharat went online this week to help make sense of Tuesday's horrific suicide hijackings, an attack widely believed to have been masterminded by the militant Islamic fringe. What he found was both comfort and fear. On America Online chat boards, interspersed between expressions of sympathy and intense discussions of the meaning and cause of the tragedy, Besharat said he saw many people venting anti-Arab hatred.” By Jim Hu CNET News.com Friday September 14 06:00 PM EDT.

‘Net offers lifeline amid tragedy’ “People in New York City and around the globe turned to the Internet on Tuesday to communicate with their families and to grasp the horrific sequence of terrorist attacks that transformed the World Trade Center and the Pentagon into disaster zones. Unable to connect via wireless and landline phones, many New Yorkers posted messages on Web sites, signed on to instant chat services, and used e-mail to contact loved ones. "There is no phone service in or out of Manhattan, so e-mail is the way to communicate. We are OK," read one e-mail message a worker in New York's Equitable building sent to friends and relatives.” Stefanie Olsen Staff Writer, CNET News.com September 11, 2001, 12:45 p.m.

 

In unmoderated chats participants are allowed to express themselves[9] without fear of censorship.

Comparison

Moderated Chat

http://se.unisa.edu.au/phd/unmoderated.htm

Unmoderated Chat

http://se.unisa.edu.au/phd/moderated.htm

Chatter

utterance

chatter

Utterance

Brian (Dublin Ireland) at 8:01pm ET

Is this going to change aviation in America and indeed around the globe? The whole terrorist operation seems to have happened far too easily?

[texasrose_28_99]

I THINK THE USA NEEDS TO BE ALOT MORE CAREFUL ABOUT

- WHO THEY LET IN TO THE USA.

 

ABCNEWS' John Nance at 8:01pm ET

Change following this act of war, because that's what it is, is inevitably going to affect the way we process and accept passengers in North America, if not throughout the world.

[MrAnderson]

US deeply regrets the death & reverences the loss of the

- great Lion of Panjshir....

 

Texas at 8:07pm ET

How long will it take to find ALL the black boxes, and what are the odds of finding the black boxes from the two planes that hit the trade center?

[ZtingRay]

what a dumb ass

 

ABCNEWS' John Nance at 8:09pm ET

Finding the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder from the aircraft near Pittsburgh and the one that hit the Pentagon will be fairly easy.

Finding the two boxes from each of the aircraft that were rammed into the World Trade Center Towers will be infinitely more difficult because of the sheer volume of the wreckage of those 2 buildings.

Eventually, the World Trade Center boxes will be found, but it literally could be months.

 

[AmericanExpress.]

WHAT AFGHANISTAN NEEDS IS A DEMOCRATIC GOVERNMENT

- ELECTED BY ALL THE PEOPLE.

 

Sebastian at 8:17pm ET

I heard rumors concerning a number of planes unaccounted for. Do we know for certain where all of todays flights ended up?

[oliv]

WHI AMERICANS JUST BE YOUR COUTRY,NO INVADER ANOTHERS COUNTRYS

ABCNEWS' John Nance at 8:19pm ET

At this hour, almost 10 hours after this horror began, it's pretty clear that there are no further "missing" aircraft.

[fRANKIE]

fuck you oliv

Table Postscript:Error! Bookmark not defined. moderated vs. edited-unmoderated example

The differences between moderated and unmoderated sites in this small example are clear. The examples on the left show clearly written postings,  with no spelling errors, and carefully worded sentences. The answers appear very quickly, possibly too quickly for a typist. It is possible that a voice recognition device is aiding the writer.  The order of responses is very sequential. The chatter asks a question, and the response or reply is given. There is no crossing over of threads of conversation. The randomness of voices, which you find in unmoderated chat, is not present.  In this chatroom, the ‘expert’ (in this case John Nance) can choose which question he answers – and it is very much a question-and-answer dialogue, and not the mix of speech types found in chat.

In the unmoderated chat in the second  example, people are expressing anger, confusion (see the swearing, the use of upper case letters, the poor spelling). These are all typical of chat  (as I have shown in my thesis) where people are unrestrained, far more than  in face to face situations.

Conclusion

It is in the immediacy of a crisis when little is known about the historical events[10] that are being played out, that we have what is the raw data, before it is translated or interpreted to fit various world views.  We can see discourses at play very readily: these are discourses contending, as chatters thrash around looking for explanations and the comfort of  consensus` - and look how quickly, and with what passion! They annexe them, import them into the current circumstances…

 

 



[2] STAMFORD, Conn., Mar 6, 2002 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- Nielsen//NetRatings, a leading Internet audience measurement service, today released its Fourth Quarter 2001 Global Internet Trends report on Internet access and penetration, finding a total of 498 million people now have Internet access from home (see Appendix A.Table 1 http://se.unisa.edu.au/phd/appendixes_all.htm)

[3] The search engine Google reported a huge increase in traffic on September 11, 2001. See, http://www.firstmonday.dk/issues/issue6_10/wiggins/ viewed September 23, 2001.

[4] In the September chatroom which I have referred to further down there were several non-English speaking people dialoguing about the events in New York City. For example,

1.1.       

15:06:09

oscar: esperes español novyk?

2.2.       

15:06:10

1Bone!!: Who did that in NY??

3.3.       

15:06:10

OmarHawk: wer ist aus deutschland?

4.4.       

15:06:16

Hello: Stadi rules

5.5.       

15:06:18

captain_insaneo: hey whats going on over in new york?????

6.6.       

15:06:20

novyk: si, de Madrid

7.7.       

15:06:26

Hello: Turku on New York

8.8.       

15:06:31

Pete: aa jee meitsi on Hyvinkäältä

 

[5] Two other chatrooms I have saved are a moderated chat site from: 1. ABCNEWS which moderated dialogue between participants and Aviation Analyst John Nance the evening of the first day of these events and from an Afghan chatroom (the Afghan chatroom is no longer available and I have saved these sites to the University of South Australia’s site at http://se.unisa.edu.au/phd/moderated_unmoderated.htm

[6] 10:05 a.m.: The south tower of the World Trade Center collapses.

[7] ‘The following log files were taken from the logs of the New York chat room during September 11, 2001. These are not the complete logs, only a few hours after the tragic events. Every country (just about) visited the room to voice there concern and get more info. Some visitors weren't so friendly so procede at your own risk!’ The following log files were taken from the logs of the New York chat room during September 11, 2001. These are not the complete logs, only a few hours after the tragic events. Every country (just about) visited the room to voice there concern and get more info. Some visitors weren't so friendly so procede at your own risk!

[8] Afghan chat is saved at:  http://se.unisa.edu.au/phd/moderated.htm

[9] One chatter in this dialogue went by the username of, [AmericanExpress.]

[10] Discourse may play as much a part of how an event becomes historical as the actual event itself. As events of the past, such as, religious or political activities are based on what a few have recorded we have little data or proof of the events or whether the people mentioned as being party to the events actually did what is said they did.  With the current opportunities of creating actual replay able transcripts of events, if the transcripts are doctored, we can have a better judgement of the events.