September 11, 2001: How the network community experienced the attacks 20 years ago

September 11, 2001: How the network community experienced the attacks 20 years ago

September 11, 2001, around 3 p.m. CEST. Just a few minutes after the first agency reports about the crash of a small airplane – as one initially believes – in the World Trade Center in New York, after the first reports on news channels, the fastest inform about the accident in discussion forums on various websites. The actual topics such as home theater and computer games fade into the background. The virtual chat rooms, the chats, in which people usually argue about the best DVDs, are transformed into news tickers.

For many who have neither television nor radio switched on, the meeting places of the preferred community on the net are the first source of information. Many are still working and cannot turn on a television anyway.

Twenty years ago, a third of Germans were online. The typical network user: male, young, educated. More than 20 million ISDN connections with 64 Kbit / s are compared to 2 million DSL contracts. But the share of the new DSL, at that time with 768 kbit / s, is growing rapidly; thanks to the new Telekom flat rate for 49 marks. SMS and ICQ are WhatsApp from 2001. Surfing with mobile phones is still exotic – the brands of which are mainly Nokia, Ericsson and Siemens.

The horror of what they saw welds the participants even closer together. Everything happens in quick succession within just two hours. The first plane crashes into the World Trade Center. A short time later the second. And the third in the Pentagon. The first tower collapses. Then the second. A car bomb was said to explode in Washington. And the fourth plane, Flight 93, crashes in Pennsylvania.

The television delivers the reports, which are commented on in the chat at the same time. The hard core sits in front of two screens until the early hours of the morning, throwing current developments into the room as scraps of sentences and giving each other tips as to which TV station is currently broadcasting an interesting report. Night owls, driven out of bed in a mixture of fear and excitement, can be brought up to date in the chat rooms.

While the chat can be commented on at the same time and in less detail, the forums are the perfect place for detailed discussions. Speculations about the perpetrator and approach are passionately discussed, and grief is expressed. Large forums, spread over up to a dozen individual topics, generate more than a thousand posts within the first 24 hours.

Anyone who is currently in the USA should submit a report from there. Some inform themselves by e-mail about the well-being of American friends or simply express condolences: While the telephone network in the USA can hardly be used at times, communication in the network works.

Admittedly, only a fraction of the Internet visitors use such communities, and so the major news websites are not able to cope with the increased influx. Up to ten times as many accesses ensure that you cannot be reached for hours. Spiegel online receives a kind of fallback from heise online so that it can be reached at all. Internet traffic in Germany is also growing rapidly – to three times the amount of data, says Telekom. Mitigation comes with countermeasures: Server capacities are increased; the web pages have been cleaned up of all the elements that only take up space but offer no information. Some news portals show themselves with bare text – as in the early days of the web – or mirror the data on several servers.

If you are lucky enough to have a regular forum, you can see the collapse of the news websites calmly: Current texts are spread via the notice boards, and while the big names are temporarily unavailable due to the high number of hits, the addresses on the tickers of smaller newspapers are passed on as an insider tip. Some prepare the news every minute, and doing without images saves bandwidth, which in turn benefits fast access.

Right from the start, the downside of the network is not spared. A few hours after the attacks, debris from the World Trade Center and live videos are being offered in online auctions. It is calculated that the date of the attack leads to the mysterious number 23 (= 11 + 9 + 2 + 1), the symbol of the Illuminati. Alleged quotations from Nostradamus are circulated; and animated joke graphics that squeeze the collapse of the twin towers into a computer game.

Tomorrow’s Sunday Missing Link will deal extensively with the aftermath of 9/11.


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