Tragedy and War in the Age of Digital Transmission

In the English edition of Le Monde Diplomatique, Pascal Lardellier on 9/11, the internet, and the shape of information.

MEDIA coverage of the events of 11 September 2001 had to deal with an unexpected newcomer: the internet. But is the net a new medium or is it a counter-medium? We have to ask that question because the internet has encouraged circulation of a different type of information, while the conventional media relayed the standard version of the events as gospel, repeatedly showing nightmare images accompanied by a familiar institutional commentary, given by cohorts of pontificating experts.

Now, information highways are a spaghetti junction of alternative routes easily accessible to anyone who wants to get away from the main routes of the politically correct and ethnocentric, and that egress is often a good thing. Yet the digital counter-information saturating the net seems to be produced by some new version of the old socialist International organisations: internet users who want to spread the word about their findings or feelings, perhaps about 9/11. Their output spreads wide and loud, as the internet’s characteristic viral circulation has amplified the old word of mouth into unprecedented resonance. Electronic mail circulates files continuously, and can reach hundreds of contacts with a single mouse click.

The meeting between relatively new technology and the historic disaster of 9/11 coincided with the emergence of blogs, those sites where people are at electronic liberty to air own views. While in internet chat rooms there are no holds barred over challenging partisan official versions, adducing technical, economic or political arguments in support.

The net is a powerful tool that allows us to escape our hang-ups. Everyone who surfs can take part in the debate (often anonymously, which is also significant). They get involved in information in the making. Some might be over-zealous in their search for the truth. It is easy to take shortcuts when interpreting numerical data of no fixed abode or to consider the net an open outlet: catharsis is inherent in the venting of resentment.