Cyberspace Peter Linford
COVERAGE of the Gulf War was seen as the great breakthrough for television news. Last December's action in Iraq and now action in Serbia could have been the breakthrough for the Internet, but may end up as a missed opportunity.
When the action started broadsheets online totally overlooked the potential of the technology. Paper editions love creating zippy graphics to illustrate the insides of cruise missiles, and palaces that the West plans to reduce to rubble, but net-specific opportunities were missed. Only the everexcellent BBC News Online (http://news.bbc.co.uk/), which very quickly established an interactive "special report" section, gave surfers coverage worth a second look.
That said, it may be that the Internet's much-vaunted championship of freedom of speech has been exposed for what it is. The extremities of feeling which war engenders and the net's ability to allow pretty much anyone to say pretty much anything blend very well: once the bombing got underway the net was awash with venom.
The Pristina-based Kosova
Information Center (www.kosova.com/) declared: 'The Serbian regime has clearly demonstrated it has never stood — nor does it stand now — for a political solution, but rather a military one." Serbia INFO, the Ministry of Information's site at www.serbia-info.com/ put out news summary phrases such as "false reports", "phoney infor mation", "Fraudulence scenario", "lies of the CNN', and threw in lots of photographs and statistics about the victims of militant Albanians for good measure. This was mild. Nick's Rant of the Day (www.nicksrant.com/) said of Milosevic: "This racist jerk of a President has only two things that make him different from Hitler. He has a puny and weak nation and he hasn't started rounding Muslims up and putting them in concentration camps." Very helpful.
Even The Non-Violence Web (www.nonvioience.ore lost its reserve. David McReynolds opined: "We should oppose any assumption that because Milosevic and Hussein are not nice, therefore NATO is. Or that because these men are not nice that we have some reason to bomb hell out of their countries." His fellowcontributor Martin Kelley saw Americans as a whole as ignorant of the issues. News anchors, he said, "could just as easily have said we were bombing the Duchy of Grand Fenwick and as long as Clinton said they were all neo-Nazis, no one would notice or even care".
Official-looking web sites maintain a degree of reticence, but deeper in the Internet, on the newsgroups where the real action is, contributors fought their own war. While clari.world.europe.balkans carried minute-by-minute updates from various news
sources, on allcurrentevents.elinton and elsewhere Clinton was singled out for bile. This unsurprisingly anonymous thought was offered: "Bill Clinton is a LIAR... a TRAITOR... a WARMONGER... a BABY KILLER... a COMMUNIST" Much indignation centred around perceived NATO hypocrisy in aiding ethnic Albanians while ignoring the Kurds. hiwa3890 demanded an explanation. The reason was transparent for Vaggelis Zaoutis: 'Turkey is USA's favorite pet and won't let it get hurt." Triaka Smith agreed, and the paranoia grew. "NATO/US—British aggression on sovereign nations (Yugoslavia and Iraq) is a part of the building of a World Empire by powers behind the scenes who want open support," she wrote.
An even more conspiratorial view came from Hans Rademaker, who saw German participation in the raids as a continuation of the Second World War. "After 54 years they have the change to revenge their defeat and gives them a new change to finish the job," he wrote. "Killing all slaves was on top of Hitler's agenda and probably also on Clinton's, Blair's and other European leaders."
The Internet is an unrestrained environment and it illustrates just how readily people will attack each other, but it is not a mirror to the world. On newsgroups, sooner or later, conflicts are automatically erased.
Peter Linford designed The Catholic Herald website, which you can visit at www. catholicherald.co.uk