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The promise of the Internet, Mideastweb and Paris Hilton


Everyone who runs a Web site or Web Log wants to know if anyone is out there reading it, and MidEastWeb is no exception. This past year we had over a million visitors. That is as many visitors as we have have in all previous years together, from August 22, 1999. Our traffic statistics are not a secret, since they are displayed on the front page of MidEastWeb. A million visitors is not bad, but it is not nearly enough of course.

The Internet promised to be a great force for peace and democracy, that would give a voice to the poor and disenfranchised, and give them access to information they never had before. It hasn't really happened, has it? Most countries in the Middle East have been slow to develop Internet resources. Though 40% of Israelis have access to Internet, percentages for most other countries are much lower. But in the USA, just about everyone has access to the Internet, and we have to admit that it hasn't had a great impact.

After the terror attacks of 9-11, a survey in the United States asked people what news sources they found to be the best source for information about terror attacks.

They got the following responses:
1 Daily Newspapers 10%
2 News Magazines 2%
3 Radio News 8%
4 Television News 71%
5 Internet 7%
6 Family and Friends 2%
7 Don't Know/Other Response 0%

Likewise for information about the environment, only 7% named the Internet as the best source of information. 64% of those questioned in 2003 said they had access to Internet from their home, and more can access it at school or work, so the problem is probably not lack of access in the United States.

To be sure, the Internet has a role in providing news information. During the days following 9-11 and during the war with Iraq, news and issues Web sites like this one were jam packed by visitors. Most of them were not seeking in-depth analysis. They were looking for maps. In the week following 9-11, MidEastweb had 140,000 visitors, as many as we had had in the previous year. A large majority of those visitors visited the map pages.

The Internet is making a revolution in the way people buy things and in many other areas, but it doesn't seem to have had much effect on information and news consumption. Part of the problem is the quality of information on the Web and Internet. The Internet news industry is dominated by the same large news agencies that run television and news stations. Usually, they do a great job of covering a wide scope of issues, without much depth. Additional sources of information are likely to be Web sites of partisan organizations, providing selective in depth coverage that "proves" their point, as well as the rumor mill that works overtime. Within a short time after the 9-11 attacks, Islamist partisans had spread the false story that the Israeli Mossad was behind the attacks, a rumor that made its way to the press and is still believed in much of the Middle East. Other non-information on the Web included a non-existent letter from Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. equating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, a fake interview with Israeli PM Ariel Sharon in which the fake Sharon made outrageous racist and bloodthirsty statements, and a supposedly anonymous letter from a just plain Israeli decrying terrorism, that turned out in reality to be a letter written by the racist Rabbi Kahaneh in 1988.

The fault however, is not necessarily in the news sources, but in us, "we the people." News sources supply the kind of news that people want, and Web sites supply the kinds of information that people want. A quick look at the most popular Internet search words gives a very definite picture of what Internet users want.

The top 10 ranked search words from one source:

1 2518 paris hilton
2 1483 kazaa lite
3 1324 jokes
4 1270 google
5 1253 yahoo
6 1166 ebay
7 938 msn emotions
8 875 games
9 871 health
10 868 paris hilton video

"britney spears" was ranked 36 and carmen electra was ranked 44. This list had recognizable pornographic terms removed from it, but some of the top ranked terms were obviously pornographic or sex related.

The word "news" was ranked 252. Though the USA is fighting a war in Iraq, it was not even on the list.
What does it mean? Does it mean that people are only interested in sex, entertainment and shopping, or does it mean that people don't take the Internet seriously as a reliable source of information, or does it mean that serious folks don't use the Internet? It is hard to say, since the Internet has thus far not proven itself as a reliable source of information. On the other hand, the information available on the Internet has to reflect what people want to see.

In a democracy, people get the government they deserve, and perhaps Internet users are getting the level and kind of information they want.

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000143.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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