Internet plays powerful role in wake of Va. Tech
Amid the chaos of what is already being called the Virginia Tech massacre, the Internet was a steady flow of fairly accurate information. Blogs — typically the anti–news source — were what helped piece together the events of early last Monday. Facebook — the social networking site of the century — was what helped friends and family know loved ones were okay. AIM idle times — usually an annoyance to anyone who wants to talk to someone — were identifiers to possible whereabouts for specific times. Wikipedia — what you shouldn’t quote in your class paper — garnered a timetable of events from the aforementioned online “sources.” News sites — reliable sources — assembled information about victims from their online profiles.
Most of us were affected by the shootings at Columbine in April 1999; as middle schoolers and junior high students, a high school shooting wasn’t something to which we could easily turn a blind eye. Yet the shootings at Virginia Tech seem different, as we are all more closely linked by our similarities — we are all college students — and by our constant connection to the Internet.
As we have seen with the deaths of students on our own campus, a Facebook wall can become a memorial; and as students who don’t know the deceased read the walls, it’s often an additional cause for legitimate sorrow. Facebook, and the Internet as a whole, lets us get a little bit closer to knowing the people who have died, and lets us understand what victims’ friends are going through, too. The walls of the Virginia Tech massacre victims are experiencing the same flood of visitors, and a lot of it stands to show that as a generation, we are capable of coming together to support each other.
ABCNews.com ’s April 16 article about online developments included bits from some students’ online postings; one included a request for a Facebook group that calls to keep the facts of the incident straight. Another posting from ABCNews.com’s article said that people from all over the world were soliciting videos of personal reactions from students via the Internet. The way the Internet has been utilized by our generation for the Virginia Tech Massacre is telling. While great in some ways, the Internet cannot be a substitute for action or an acceptable replacement for tasteful behavior.
The sheer volume of people expressing condolences is amazing and, perhaps, comforting. At the same time, the deluge of Internet gestures makes each one progressively more meaningless. A group search for “Virginia Tech” and “pray” on Facebook returns over 500 results. Except for two groups, at least the first five pages of search returns for just “Virginia Tech” are some kind of remembrance groups. The sentiment is spectacular if it’s based in fact or action, but it is important to remember that starting a Facebook group does not necessarily solve problems or incite real action. Ultimately, human contact is what will help us all move on from this tragedy, not staring at a computer screen.
The varied uses for the Internet in the case of the massacre backs arguments from both sides about the Internet: It globalizes, but also singularizes; brings people together, but also prevents actual involvement. We encourage students to use the Internet to help grieve and show support for the Virginia Tech community. When grappling with such terrible loss, the Internet is an excellent tool — it just shouldn’t be the only tool. Good things come from the Internet being used to its fullest capacity, and so do weaker things. We are the Internet generation. We just need to learn to harness the power of the Internet, to use it to unite, but to not expect impossible things from it.