Public Release: 

Study by UCLA Internet project shows e-mail transformed personal communication after Sept. 11 attacks

University of California - Los Angeles

A new way of establishing emotional connections through the Internet emerged out of the events of Sept. 11 that allowed more than 100 million Americans to reach out to others as never possible before, according to a UCLA study on the impact of the terrorist attacks on media use and online technology.

"Sept. 11 was the first major national crisis since the beginning of the Internet and e-mail," said Jeffrey Cole, director of the UCLA Center for Communication Policy and founder of the UCLA Internet Project. "In the aftermath of the attacks, e-mail had a profound influence on how Americans communicate."

"Tens of millions of Americans shared an emotional connection through e-mail after the attacks -- communication that in almost all instances would not have occurred through telephone or letters," Cole said. "This was not simply an exchange of information -- this was a type of 'I care mail'; after the attacks, e-mail users reached out, sent messages of emotional support or concern for others, and looked for information about victims of the attacks. Users established new connections, and reconnected with old relationships.

"Equally important, people around the world used e-mail and the Internet to reach out to Americans to demonstrate support, compassion and sympathy," Cole said. "In many cases, people overseas simply wanted to establish a connection with an American they knew. E-mail linked people who otherwise would not have been brought together by phone or letter.

"All of this demonstrates that a new era of communication has emerged as people used online technology during one of our most devastating national tragedies," Cole said. "Clearly, the broad emotional support and expressions of concern that e-mail can provide brought users together during a crisis."

The study, a special report produced by the UCLA Internet Project, found that 57.1 percent of e-mail users -- more than 100 million Americans -- received or sent messages of emotional support, messages of concern for others, or questions about victims of the attacks.

Of e-mail users, 37.6 percent received messages of emotional support or concerns about their welfare, and 38.6 percent sent similar e-mail messages of emotional support.

In addition, 17.9 percent wrote e-mails asking if the recipient was directly victimized by the attacks, while 10.9 percent received e-mail asking if they were directly affected by the attacks. And, 16.2 percent sent inquiries asking about potential victims who the recipient knew personally, while 13.8 percent received similar e-mail inquiries.

The survey also found that 22.9 percent of Internet users received e-mail messages of support or sympathy from outside the United States.

"We believe that most of this international correspondence represents a whole new kind of communication that probably would not have occurred without e-mail," Cole said.

Television dominates information gathering

Most Americans turned to television -- not the Internet -- for their news and information about the terrorist attacks.

"The vast majority of Americans found out about the attacks on television," Cole said, "and that is where they stayed for more information."

The study found that more than half (56.3 percent) of Americans first learned of the attacks by watching television, compared to 0.8 percent who learned the news on the Internet. (24.9 percent learned from another person by phone or in person, and 15.5 percent learned from radio.)

After they first heard about the attacks, almost 80 percent of Americans then again turned to television as their source of information. When asked, "After you learned of the events of Sept. 11, where did you first turn for further information?" 79.2 percent said they watched television, while 3.1 percent turned to Web sites. (9.1 percent used radio, 3.5 percent newspapers, and 2.9 percent other people.)

The survey also found that during the week of Sept. 11, most viewers switched channels of news coverage. More than two-thirds (67.8 percent) switched channels either occasionally or constantly, 20.2 percent changed channels constantly, and 47.6 percent changed occasionally, while 32.2 remained primarily on one channel.

Nearly three-quarters of respondents (73.6 percent) said their use of TV increased after the attacks, while 23.2 percent said their Internet use increased. (31.2 percent increased their newspaper reading.)

Web access: A secondary information role, post-attack

While e-mail was a major communications tool after the attacks, Web access played only a modest supporting role for information gathering during the week of Sept. 11.

While not a primary news source immediately after the attacks, the Internet did serve as an information tool during the week of Sept. 11. More than 40 percent of Internet users (42.4 percent) went to Web sites for information about the terrorist attacks at some point during the week of Sept. 11.

Users who went to Web sites for information about the attacks did so because they were easily accessible (29.2 percent), the information was up to date (27.5 percent), the information was more in-depth (18.1 percent), or the sites provided another perspective from traditional media (8.8 percent). Only six percent found the Internet more credible than traditional media.

Sept. 11 did not provide a reason for most Internet non-users to go online. Of non-users, 93.2 percent said they are not more likely to use the Internet now than they were before Sept. 11.

Privacy: Some increase in concern

Previous studies of Internet use conducted by the UCLA Internet Project found extremely high levels of concern about the privacy of personal information while online; the 2001 study released last November found that when asked if "people who go online put their privacy at risk," 63.6 percent of Internet users and 76.1 percent of non-users agree or strongly agree.

The new UCLA Sept. 11 survey found that the attacks did not increase the already-high levels of concern for about 70 percent of Internet users. However, 28.4 percent say that they are even more concerned about the privacy of personal information online since Sept. 11.

Among Internet users whose concern has increased, 40.8 percent don't feel secure because information is too easily accessible, 17.8 percent believe terrorists may try to gather personal information, 14.3 percent say investigations of terrorists may decrease personal privacy online, and 13.1 percent say the government may restrict Internet use as defense against terrorists.

UCLA Internet Project

The findings on Internet use after Sept. 11 were part of a special survey conducted by the UCLA Internet Project, which produces the annual comprehensive study of the impact of the Internet on users and non-users.

The third annual UCLA Internet Report, which will be released this fall, will continue to examine the issues emerging out of the Sept. 11 attacks.

The UCLA Internet Project is supported by public foundations and private companies, including the National Science Foundation, America Online, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, DirecTV, Disney, Sony, Verizon, Pacific Bell, Accenture, Merrill Lynch and the National Cable Television Association.

The UCLA Internet Report, titled "Surveying the Digital Future," provides a comprehensive year-to-year view of the impact of the Internet by examining the behavior and views of a national sample of 2,006 Internet users and non-users, as well as comparisons between new users (less than one year of experience) and very experienced users (five or more years of experience).

The UCLA Center for Communication Policy created and organizes the World Internet Project, which includes the UCLA Internet Report and similar studies throughout Europe, the Middle East, South America and Asia. The center is a research unit in The Anderson School at UCLA that is affiliated with the College of Letters and Science.

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To download the full text of the UCLA Internet Report, visit www.ccp.ucla.edu.

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