Apr 24, 2007

R U Okay? Pls Call: Internet reactions from around the world

by Jared Pierce and Joanne Tang
We live in a small world that gets smaller each day. We also live in a world wrought with evil. We live in a world in which events like April 16th’s tragedy at Virginia Tech shock us, but are not unprecedented. The sad part is that though people hope it is the last of its kind, but feel in their gut that it is not.

The advancement of technology breeds a pervasive blog and personal Web site culture that gives anyone with a computer a voice. They can express their feelings in pictures, videos or words by typing out their innermost thoughts. These advancements allow many people cheap and easy methods of communicating across the vast world. It was clear during the days that followed the Virginia Tech tragedy that this culture of open communication and readily available Web space both benefited and offended a wounded society.

A search for “Virginia Tech Massacre” on Technorati, a site that tracks more than 70 million blogs, yielded results ranging from support for the victims and their families to gun control rhetoric and even sites that proclaim the victims deserved their fate.

When news filtered in of shootings at Virginia Tech, students at other universities found a number of ways to locate friends and family at Virginia Tech. Many used instant messenger services such as AIM, Google talk and Yahoo Messenger. These instant message services allowed users to get real-time updates on the situation.

Rutgers University Senior Cristine Chin found out about the  Virginia Tech shootings from a friend. From Sterling, Va., Chin knew several people at Virginia Tech and started to IM them. Those she could not find on instant messenger, she received notice about from mutual friends. Throughout the day, Chin used IM to receive updates from her  friends on campus.

The networking site Facebook has been a virtual meeting ground for students looking for friends, family or just trying to get their story out. Once the media released the killer’s name, numerous Facebook groups appeared. Some groups called for forgiveness while other groups attacked and cursed the gunman. According to Reuters, more than 236 groups have been started since April 16.
Lena Huber, a junior at the University of Tennessee, said she found out about the shootings from her cousin. Huber knew several students at Virginia Tech.

“Some of (my friends) updated their Facebooks, others called when they were finally able to,” she said.

Looking at Facebook on Monday, walls – message areas where users can post comments – were littered with messages such as “are you okay?” and “I hope  you are safe.” Some who had already heard from their friends posted relieved messages such as “I’m glad you’re okay.”

Virginia Tech student Katie Olson created the “I’m ok at VT” group, which had 3,553 members at press time. Started originally as a way for  students to post that they are safe, the group is now used as a hub for updates on the injured students.

MySpace, a site where users can create their own Web page featuring a blog, music and pictures, has also been an outlet. One site – The Virginia Tech Family – has been a forum for people to write their support for the victims’ families.

Tributes range from YouTube videos to www.virginiatechtribute.org, which was set up as a way to pay respects to those lost.

The West Virginia Blogger has a list of the victims and links to their MySpace pages. LiveJournal, a popular blog hosting site, has been used by numerous students to tell their stories.
Virginia Tech graduate Wayne Chiang was hit with a slew of posts on his LiveJournal blog after Geraldo Rivera of  FoxNews showed his photo online as an example of why people would think he was the shooter. The Facebook photo showed Chiang with part of his gun collection. Chiang used his blog to state his innocence.

Digg is a “user driven social content” Web site, and allows users to post links to articles for other users to add votes (diggs) to the ones they like the most. On April 16 an article posted to the Web site received 6,917 diggs.  Another article about Professor Liviu Librescu, who held the door to his classroom shut while students escaped through the window, generated 4,028 diggs.

For Internet users overseas not directly affected by the shootings, the forums at Digg and other online news Web sites proved to be a useful method of communication. While many discussed gun control and security, others offered words of sympathy and condolence. There was not only a response to the tragedy, there was a sense of community as people from all walks of life banded together on the Internet to help each other heal.

Not just a tool, the Web has made it possible for people to gain understanding, advocate change and for some, show the love of Christ.

Contact Jared Pierce at jpierce2@liberty.edu and Joanne Tang at jtang@liberty.edu.
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