O Estado De São Paulo: 9/11/01-9/17/01
In immediate response to the attacks, participation in O Estado's forum peaked on September 11th with a record 692 posts (Table 2A, Figure 2A). Brazilian posts on 9/11 and 9/12 account for 900 posts or almost 49% of total posts in the forum's lifespan. Over 60% of all posts made to the Brazilian forum, or 1,119 posts, occur within the week following 9/11.
Table 2A. Forum posts 9/11/01-9/17/01
|Date|| O Estado || Le Monde || NY Times |
These initial numbers indicate the vast number of pop-in posters who come to the fora immediately after the attacks to express emotion and then never return. Immediately after September 11th, pop-in posters contribute 75% of posts to the Brazilian forum, compared to 25% for regular posters (Tables 3A and 3B, Figure 3).
Table 3A. Regular and pop-in posters 9/11/01-9/17/01
| ||% Posts From Regular Posters||% Posts From Pop-In Posters||% Posts From Moderator|
| O Estado ||25||75||0|
| Le Monde ||60||40||0|
| NY Times ||63||36||1|
Given the nature of their participation, pop-in posters do not generate interactive posts.9 Therefore, due to the flood of pop-in posters, only 15% of all posts address another poster in the first week at O Estado (Table 4A, Figure 4).
Table 4A. Interactions between posters 9/11/01-9/17/01
| ||% Addresses Another Poster||% Does Not Address Another Poster or Begins Thread|
| O Estado ||15||85|
| Le Monde ||24||76|
| NY Times ||41||59|
Of all interactive posts in which participants address one another, an overwhelming 80% are critical or make negative judgments about another poster. In contrast, only 13.3% of interactive posts are affirming or positive in nature; 6.7% are neutral (Table 5A, Figure 5).
Table 5A. Affirmation and sanctioning in interactive posts 9/11/01-9/17/01
| ||% Posts Positive/Affirming||% Posts Negative/Critical||% Posts||Neutral|
| O Estado ||13.3||80||6.7|| |
| Le Monde ||16.7||50||33.3|| |
| NY Times ||17||63.5||19.5|| |
Of Brazilian posters in Brazil, 81.6% are pop-in posters, and 18.4% are regular participants. There are no international posters. However during this initial week, 8% of posts are from Brazilians living in the United States; 100% of these expatriate posters in the sample are regular contributors (Tables 5A and 5C, Figure 5). There is immediate dissensus that divides the forum into opposing camps: anti-Americans versus anti-anti-Americans and pro-Americans. In the week following 9/11, 37% of posts on O Estado's forum include a negative statement criticizing either the United States or the American people compared to 16% who defend the United States from these critiques. While Brazilian posters adopt an anti-anti-American stance, only the Brazilian expatriates may be classified as pro-American (Table 6A, Figure 6).
Table 6A. Anti-American and anti-anti-American posts 9/11/01-9/17/01
| ||% Anti-American||% Anti-Anti-American or Pro-American||% Non-Ideological|
| O Estado ||37||16||47|
| Le Monde ||53||17||30|
| NY Times ||4||4||92|
O Estado de São Paulo: Discourse
The vast majority of Brazilian posters come to the forum in immediate response to 9/11. Their posts are defined by a collective outpouring of emotion such that many treat the forum as a cathartic digital space. In the early afternoon of September 11th, Brazilian pop-in posters flood the forum, express disgust at the terrorists, call for prayer, fear WW III, and appeal for peace. The majority of these emotional responses come from pop-in posters who do not return to the forum.
In contrast, regular posters quickly divide into ideological camps that last the life of the forum. Competing discourses lock the forum in fierce combat between anti-Americans and anti-anti-Americans. Anti-Americans frame their arguments with historical references that frame 9/11 as a just reaction to the United States' imperialism and past deeds. An anti-American, Roberto,10 defines 9/11 as the direct result of American foreign policy. Simultaneously, he is unconcerned with Americans' suffering and critiques posters who oppose this view as “hypocritical:”
Let's stop being hypocritical and look at what really happened. Americans do exactly what they want with the entire world. And when someone goes against them and uses the same arms as they do, they turn themselves into victims…remember that Americans killed millions of innocent Japanese and nothing happened (Atomic Bomb), and in Vietnam (Napalm) therefore I don't think that Americans are really suffering so much. We reap what we sow. They planted arrogance and hunger in the world and now are reaping that which they have sown.
Another anti-American, Rex, also expresses this stance:
…the attack was really a masterpiece. They should have also destroyed the Statue of Liberty and other American symbols. Life imitates art. Independence Day but without a North American victory. The United States is the biggest assassin of the world. Besides globalization, they kill millions over the entire world from hunger and war. Congratulations to the authors of this deed that will shame the United States for a long time.
For these anti-Americans, 9/11 is a day of ripe satisfaction. They see the United States as deserving the attacks and express glee or happiness about the victims. With such posts in the first hour of the forum's existence, the battle lines are drawn between the two factions.
In response, anti-anti Americans reject the anti-American framework as both illogical and morally inappropriate. One anti-anti-American poster immediately challenges Rex's assertions: “Rex's observation and interpretation are absurd and oversimplified. It is sad to read this kind of opinion in such a moment as this one. The people affected by the attack are innocent and workers such as any of us.” Anti-anti-Americans repeatedly emphasize complexity of world political systems and the victims' humanity. Further, anti-anti-Americans call upon values such as liberty and democracy for all peoples; they abhor the victims' suffering as members of humanity. Like this anti-anti-American, they emphasize the need for compassion and solidarity:
It is sad to see how people express their opinions about what is occurring in the U.S.…terrorism constitutes the most serious threat to world peace, human liberty and democracy. May God help and sustain the victims' families, for certainly justice comes from God. I express my solidarity for Americans and cry for the victims.
This anti-anti-American defends transnational values and calls for mercy for all human beings, including Americans. Rather than being pro-American, the majority of these posts call for what they see as a balanced view of the American people or the United States. In this way, they employ the frame of justice in defining the attacks as against “humanity” and “democracy.”
In the week following 9/11, there are two pro-Americans who defend the United States and its people in terms of politics, culture, and “American” values. Not surprisingly, they are two Brazilians living in the United States: Fernando and Victoria. In the week following 9/11, these vocal Brazilians express shock at the number of anti-American comments. They unleash a torrent of posts defending their new homeland. Fernando writes:
Reading the posts here…I hope that President Bush's missile program will protect the skies of the United States. I also hope that it will serve to protect us from the nonsense coming from pseudo-intellectual Brazilians who revel in their anti-Americanism.
While these pro-Americans admit to the United States' faults, they hotly defend their adopted country. Many Brazilians on the forum react negatively; they call Fernando and Victoria “traitors” who have “abandoned” Brazil by “fleeing to the United States.” In response to such remarks, these expatriates post with great fervor.
O Estado de São Paulo: 10/23/01-10/29/01
By the end of October, the percentage of anti-American posts increases from 37% to 46%. In like manner, pro-American and anti-anti-American posts climb from 16% to 42% in October (Table 6B). By the last week of October, there are far fewer neutral posts (12%) than in September (47%). The forum's entire debate revolves around these two groups: the pro-American and anti-anti-Americans led by the Brazilians residing in the United States, and their detractors, the anti-Americans.
There is also a change in the forum constituency. In September, 92% of all posts come from Brazilians, 81.6% of whom are pop-in posters. By the end of October, 58% of all posts are generated by Brazilian participants in Brazil, of whom 65% are regular posters. Just after 9/11, the only self-defined expatriates on the Brazilian forum are Fernando and Victoria who are living in the United States. Later, a new group of Brazilian expatriates has joined the forum such that 42% of all posts come from Brazilians living abroad (Tables 8B and 8D, Figure 8). Brazilian expatriates living in a country other the United States generate 12% of all posts. In addition, Fernando and Victoria have been joined by other Brazilians in the United States such that Brazilian expatriates living in the United States generate 30% of all posts on O Estado's forum.
Table 8A. National and international posters 9/11/01-9/17/01
| ||% Posts From National Posters||% Posts From Expatriate Posters||% Posts From International Posters|
| O Estado ||92||8||-|
| Le Monde ||93||4||3|
| NY Times ||92||-||8|
In addition to the evolution of ideological camps, we see other shifts in the forum constituencies. Most striking, the number of posts for the week has shrunk to a mere 90 posts (Table 2B, Figure 2B), and the flood of pop-in posters has slowed to a trickle. Average forum participation during the last week of October indicates that regular posters account for 76% of total forum posts compared to 25% during the week following 9/11 (Table 3A and 3B, Figure 3).
These regular users address, question, quote, affirm, critique, and insult other users such that all posts become a collective product of the group's interactions.
In O Estado's forum, posters address each other in 78% of posts (Tables 4B, Figure 4). The vast majority of interactions among posters (69.3%) are still critical in nature, while only 25.6% of posts addressed to another user are affirmative in nature and 5.1% are neutral. This represents a shift in the percentage of both critical and affirmative posts from the week following 9/11 when these percentages were 90% and 13.3%, respectively. Thus users are more likely to interact, but they are slightly less likely to critique another participant and almost twice as likely to affirm another poster (Table 5B, Figure 5).
Finally, there is a shift in the “cognitive burden” (Stromer-Galley & Martinson, 2004, p. 19) imposed by posts' average length and complexity. This shift is evidenced by the average number of words per post. Brazilians bear an incredible 319.17% increase in words per post, from 120 words following 9/11 to 383 the final week of the forum (Table 7, Figure 7).
Table 7. Shift in cognitive burden in forum posts
| ||Average Number Words Per Post 9/11/01-9/17/01||Average Number Words Per Post 10/23/01-10/29/01||Percent Change|
| O Estado ||120||383||319.17|
| Le Monde ||295||131||-55.59|
| NY Times ||170||114||-32.94|
In sum, at the end of October, the majority of Brazilian forum members are regular users. These regular users have high levels of interaction with each other; these interactions are likely to be critical or negative based on ideological differences driven by Brazilians living in the United States. These interactions take place in posts that are over three times longer than those following 9/11.
O Estado de São Paulo: Interactional Strategies
By the last week of October, more Brazilian expatriates join Fernando and Victoria in the forum. As a regular poster analyzes, “One thing that I have noticed in this forum is that the discussions end by turning into a battle between Brazilians in Brazil and the Brazilians from the United States.” Indeed, by the end of October, 17% of total posts respond to either Fernando or Victoria. Some responses are supportive, but many are critical. By this time, in response to increasing numbers of critical comments, Fernando has long been using formalized expressions in his posts.
Sir…For this reason, my disagreement with your theory, IN NO WAY affects your integrity and honesty in explaining your thinking and in no way affects my admiration for your gentlemanly behavior towards all here. Thank you very much for the opportunity to have these discussions with you Sir. Most affectionately, Fernando
Fernando takes care to address others as “Sir” and “Madam” (see de Oliveira, 2003, on the importance of address forms in Portuguese). He also writes affirmative comments to both his supporters and detractors in an attempt to encourage dialogue.
While most posters do not go as far as he does, many begin to address each other formally, refer to each other in the third person, employ the formal form of “you,” and even begin to sign their posts with warmer salutations: “Mr. Mario, Thank you for your words of solidarity…Sir you have touched upon a very important point…Affectionately yours…” This is not to say that the critical posts are not vituperative. During this same time, one of Fernando's detractors calls him “Mr. Evil.” However, those who hope to maintain a civil environment for discussion do their utmost by adopting highly formal interactional styles. An anti-anti-American congratulates Fernando and Victoria for their efforts:
Dear Fernando and Victoria, I have accompanied this forum for long enough. I am in favor free speech. I would like to ask you a favor…continue to write what you think even if you are attacked on a personal level. As Mr. Fernando has said, we must attack the message and not the messenger. Your contributions are very important for the “diversity” of this forum. Affectionately yours, Maria.
The posts become longer and longer in length with this highly stylized form. Some posts adopt an epistolary format to accommodate a more formal style. Both their length and formal quality lend a serious tone to the interactions.
Le Monde: 9/11/01-9/17/01
Le Monde's forum peaked on September 19th in response to the new forum being opened (Figure 1). However, immediate response to the attacks was still significant. There were 511 posts on September 13th and over 400 posts per day until Monday the 17th when participation dipped to 351 posts (Table 2A, Figure 2A). The total for the first week is 2,264 posts, which is greater than the total number of posts in the entire Brazilian forum.
Immediately after September 11th, pop-in posters account for 40% of French posts, while regular posters generate 60% of posts (Table 3A, Figure 3). While regular posters are highly interactive, the large numbers of visiting pop-in posters do not interact with other posters. Mirroring the Brazilian forum, the influx of pop-in posters artificially lowers the total number of interactive posts to 24% (Table 4A, Figure 4). Of those posts that are interactive, 16.7% affirm another poster or group of posters, while 50% are critical or sanction another participant or ideological camp. In contrast, 33.3% are neutral (Table 5A, Figure 5).
In terms of nationality, French posters generate 93% of all contributions (Table 8A, Figure 8). Of these, 60% are regular contributors and 40% are pop-in posters. In addition, French expatriates living in the United States account for 4% of all posts. Americans in France and the United States account for another 3% of all posts. While 100% of Americans posting to Le Monde are pop-in posters, 100% of French expatriates are regular posters (Tables 8C).
In the week following 9/11, 53% of posts on Le Monde's forum include a negative statement criticizing either the United States or the American people. Seventeen percent of posters defend the United States from these critiques by adopting an anti-anti-American stance (Table 6A, Figure 6).
Le Monde: Discourse
Like the Brazilian forum, the French forum is immediately torn by ideological divisions. As the ideological warfare escalates, French posters immediately call one of the factions the “anti-Americans.” There is more than a hint of Schadenfreude among the anti-Americans. One of these posters shares, “On TV we heard, ‘The symbols of capitalism have collapsed in the United States.’ Who can, in all honesty, pretend to not have had, in that very moment, a brief moment of secret pleasure?” Like Brazilian anti-Americans, these French posters take joy in the September 11th terrorist attacks. Another anti-American French poster defines the United States as malignant and frames emotional response as negative American behavior.
Instead of feeling sorry for yourself, you would do better to consider your world and political history. The U.S. is the cancer of this planet and the cancer has taken root in the beast with the investiture of GW Bush the fascist.
Like their Brazilian counterparts, these anti-Americans do not sympathize with the victims because they frame 9/11 as the United States' just desserts.
Sanctioning of both content and emotion begins immediately in terms of the anti-American and anti-anti-American debate. When some of the first posters express grief and compassion towards the victims, these pop-in responses are ignored or even reframed by the anti-American camp as with the following pop-in poster, “First shock, fear, worry…then anger, hatred, desire for vengeance…and now I feel nothing other than disgust…disgust towards human nature, disgust towards myself…disgust towards the Muslim fanatics, authors of these monstrous terrorist attacks …Matthew 16 Years Old.” Like many anti-anti-Americans, Matthew recognizes, and mourns, the victims' humanity. Yet, a regular French poster responds to Matthew with fervor: “Voila! That's exactly how the American public opinion reacts: like a sixteen year old adolescent. And that is the heart of the problem…” This anti-American negatively frames sympathetic response as immature American behavior.
The anti-anti-American camp mobilizes in response. They frame such unsympathetic reactions as more than objectionable; they perceive them as attacks on democratic values dear to the French:
Odious. Some people, even on a day like this one, continue to say the same old story…All of them can be categorized: enemies of the United States, enemies of liberty and democracy. Their “regrets” and “condolences” made up at the last minute are empty.
For anti-anti-Americans, anti-American rhetoric is an attack on shared values between France and the United States, such as democracy. As such, the anti-Americans are the “enemy.” Further, the degree of animosity expressed towards the United States pushes non-ideological participants into taking a stance. French participants report that the unremitting anti-American comments during the immediate week following 9/11 galvanize them to become anti-anti-Americans: “I align myself with posters' messages of support towards the American people! Although I am not terribly appreciative of Bush's politics, it never crossed my mind to justify this monstrous attack as do some of the imbeciles here…” Another anti-anti-American poster explains how he is forced to take sides in the ideological struggle: “I also was very shocked by certain statements on this forum and expressed myself against them as did numerous other French people.” Anti-anti-Americans make the distinction between the “real” France and forum members: “Here, some participants are exalted leftist intellectuals, who think that they are the salt of the earth and the voice of France. The real France stood still for three minutes today to honour your death.” Thus the ideological struggle becomes a battleground that forces regular posters to take sides. In opposition to the anti-Americans, some posters defend the United States, while others uphold what they frame as the ideals of France.
Le Monde: 10/23/01-10/29/01
By the end of October, posters are slightly less likely to make anti-American posts. While 46% still do so, anti-anti-American posts increase from 17% to 32%. Non-ideological posts have dropped to 22% of all posts (Table 6B). Although the flood of pop-in posters to Le Monde slows, at 2277, the total number of posts has remained at the same level as the week following 9/11 (Table 2B, Figure 2B). Regular forum members dominate both the forum and the discourse camps by the last week of October by generating 90% of total forum posts compared to 60% during the week following 9/11 (Table 3B).
Further, interactivity has greatly increased (Table 4B and Figure 4). On Le Monde's forum by the end of October, posters address another participants in 90% of posts compared to 24% in September. Of these exchanges, 80% are critical, 6.7% affirming, and 13.3% neutral (Table 5B, Figure 5). As with O Estado, at the close of October, regular users dominate the forum, predominantly in a negative or critical manner. However, unlike Brazilian participants, at the end of October French interactive posts are much more likely to be critical, slightly less likely to be positive, and significantly less likely to be neutral than they were following 9/11 when these percentages were 50%, 16.7%, and 33.3% respectively.
However, there is a dramatic disparity between the Brazilian and French fora concerning expatriate posters who have reduced their participation in the French forum. By the last week of October, international posters and expatriates are very low in number in the French forum. The French expatriate regular posters (4%) and American pop-in posters (3%) coming to Le Monde's forum following 9/11 slow to .5% each; both groups become pop-in posters (Tables 7B and 7D). Finally, there is a shift in the cognitive burden contrary to that experienced on the Brazilian forum. At the end of October, French posts are only 131 words on average, which is a 55.59% decrease from September when posts average 295 words (Table 7, Figure 7).
Le Monde: Interactional Strategies
As the discourse camps battle, posters are not content merely to regurgitate strong discordant opinions. Rather, the French develop an interactional rewards strategy that facilitates and enlivens interactions. They employ humor as a powerful tool to sanction users from opposing camps. These posters use sarcasm, mockery, and ridicule regarding other posters' intelligence, sometimes using ad hominem attacks:
Delightful comparison. And of such rare intelligence. Is it possible to push moronic anti-Americanism further than you do? I doubt it. However, anything is possible. Human idiocy has no limit, even if you push the envelope as far as it can go.
Posters combine intellectual oneupmanship with substantive critiques designed to entertain as well as instruct:
I would like to say this CLEARLY. If you think that 1) the CIA, 2) the Mossad, 3) the DGSE, 4) the Jewish Agency or 5) my grandmother (cross out the superfluous choices) are responsible for this massacre simply for the pleasure of leaping to Kabul and building a pipeline, I believe that you truly mislead yourself. As for Bin L, I do not think he is an idiot. I think he is mad as a hatter. Nuance. Translations for those who have trouble understanding: I prefer drinking beer with Bush and Powell than mint tea with Bin L. and the gang. Or better yet, I prefer gin with Mohamed VI than vodka with Bin L. Is this clear?
These posts ridicule the other's social skills, reasoning, and intelligence.
The French also employ black humor. One anti-American suggests that two of the anti-anti-Americans go join the war in Afghanistan:
Are you still here? But it is only two hours away by plane. Be careful once you arrive…there are anti-personnel mines made by your friends. PS, since you are going there, take your friend Jean895 with you. He can raise the troops' morale.
Another anti-American jokes, “They are recruiting… (Haven't you heard?) Berlusconi's message about Western superiority over the Middle East. Hurry up, you are going to miss the train…” These French posters use humor to underscore or reiterate their ideological stances, while also sanctioning other posters. At the same time, humor allows users to display their own intellectual prowess in what could otherwise become a deadening repetition of ideological views. Unlike their Brazilian counterparts, the French often write concise, incisive posts as opposed to longer, more formal contributions.
The New York Times: 9/11/01-9/17/01
The highest levels of forum participation in the NY Times occur on 9/12 with 1,019 posts (Figure 1). The following days collect 991 and 551 posts, respectively, before the forum closes for the weekend. By the following Monday, posts drop to 284 for a total 2,905 for the week (Table 2A, Figure 2A).
Immediately after September 11th, pop-in posters account for 36% of American posts. Regular users contribute 63%, while the moderator writes 1% of posts (Table 3A, Figure 3). Although the effect is not as severe as in the Brazilian and French fora, pop-in posters lower the total number of interactive posts to 41% of all posts (Table 4A, Figure 4). Of these interactive posts, the minority affirms (17%) and the majority critiques (63.5%) another poster or group of posters (Table 7A, Figure 7).
Americans account for 92% of all posts to the NY Times, of which 67% are regular posters (Tables 7A and 7C, Figure 7). There are no self-defined American expatriates, but international posters contribute 8% of total posts; of these, only 12.5% participate regularly, while 87.5% are pop-in posters.
Unlike the Brazilian and French fora, only tinges of the anti-American and anti-anti-American debate are initially present on the American forum (Table 6A, Figure 6). Americans draw together in a time of solidarity. Only 4% of posts to the NY Times' forum are critical of the United States during the week following 9/11. Only 25% of these (1% of all posts) are anti-American or employ statements equating the attacks with metajustice. Instead, 75% (3% of all posts) are anti-American in that they criticize the United States' past choices with an eye to considering the best possible response to 9/11.
While Brazilian (30%) and French (26%) anti-Americans are concerned with a retrospective account of blameworthy behavior that caused the attacks, Americans are more concerned with the future. For Americans, the most important problems are fighting terrorism (54%) and defining a just response that does not violate “American values” (27%). While 61% of Americans discuss how the United States should fight terrorism, only 17% of Brazilians or 24% of the French do so.
The New York Times: Discourse
Theories of cultural trauma explain how individuals most affected by such events feel the need to unify and put aside differences in immediate response (Sztompka, 2000); this is certainly the case for Americans post-9/11 (Collins, 2004). In the week following 9/11, there are few anti-Americans and many pro-Americans. While there is some discussion of past American foreign policy as blameworthy (7%), unlike Brazilian or French posters, most American posters reject the idea that the United States deserved or provoked the attacks. This pro-American post exemplifies this stance:
In response to “We should ask ourselves if the root cause of this level of hatred lies in the forethought of destruction of the Western civilization or is it something that lies deep within our past actions, our current steps and the foreign policy followed by the U.S.”
I have heard this a lot lately and frankly it makes me angry. Why? Because the statement implies that somehow WE are responsible for the attack. It implies that the anger against the United States is just even if the methods go too far. The attack on the U.S. was so immoral that the act stands condemned by itself without any need to understand it. I submit that the anger against the U.S. by these fanatics is irrational and not justified. U.S. policy is not what is at issue here. I point out that the last two wars the U.S. has engaged in were to defend Muslims, the Gulf War and Kosovo as well as helping the Bosnians and we also helped the Afghans defeat the Soviets. All worthy fights. Give the U.S. some credit!
Forty-six percent of all posters use one of the following frames: an attack on civilization, the West, democracy or liberty. Others frame the attacks in terms of conflict between good and evil. Discussion centers on the future of the United States or the duty of the United States to defend those in these inclusive categories.
Rather than looking at the past to assess blame, American posters look to the future. Immediately following 9/11, even self-defined “liberals” expect Americans to rally together behind an appropriate military response. As one pro-American states, “I am a lifelong liberal who is all for invading.” These posters deem it unproductive to criticize American foreign policy or President Bush. As a second pro-American writes, “I don't understand how looking down on the president will help anything. It turns your stomach, doesn't it?” Such critiques are defined as inappropriate given the present suffering, as yet a third poster expresses: “As a staunch critic of George W. Bush I will not seriously critique him on this point in this time of turmoil for all Americans.” When a small number of posters criticize the United States or President Bush, their remarks are not well-received by pro-Americans:
Disagreeing with the President during a time of extreme national crisis, instead of offering your support is not only stupid, is not only brainless, does not only trivialize the brutal murder of thousands of New Yorkers, but is an affront to everything American.
In sum, as this American poster eloquently states, “How can you bash us now at a time like this? You rotten piece of garbage.”
However, as the initial reaction to 9/11 subsides, the anti-American and anti-anti-American division in the NY Times appears in the United States' continued response to 9/11. The ideological camps solidify once the United States begins its military activity in Afghanistan. In this way, while the Brazilians and French have long been debating events from anti-American and anti-anti-American camps, this style of division belatedly appears on the NY Times' forum. As the conflict escalates, a growing group of posters is increasingly critical of the United States as a political entity. They believe that the American military and media should be scrupulously questioned:
Who to believe: a government and military that have lied to us in the past, and a quiescent media that do little more than channel press releases, or more varied sources throughout the world? The government and military may well be telling the truth, but past experience teaches us to be wary and seek confirmation elsewhere. There are more choices than just the U.S. or the Taliban.
These posters contest the Bush administration's military response to 9/11 and express their dissatisfaction with the American government and foreign policy. In this way, the NY Times' forum develops its own faction of posters who adopt a critical stance towards the United States.
In contrast, the pro-Americans adopt a Bush-inspired stance, quoting the President: “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” These pro-Americans vigorously defend the United States, the President, the Department of Defense and the military. When the American equivalent of the anti-Americans criticizes these views or questions the United States' military, the pro-Americans interpret these critiques as anti-American discourse. They frame it as not only anti-American but pro-terrorist. For pro-Americans, rejecting official statements from the United States government and accepting “propaganda” from the enemy is siding with the Taliban:
Hmmm, who to believe, the United States government or the Taliban - Bin Laden accomplices who believe in amputating hands and feet of alleged thieves…when there is clear, intentional denial of the United States' policy to avoid and minimize collateral damage to civilians by carefully targeting Taliban military and command structures, or of flat out preferring the completely unsubstantiated Taliban claim regarding damage to U.S. assets, then one has crossed over to supporting the Taliban propaganda effort…
Pro-American posters resist supporting the “Taliban propaganda effort” as the “preferred interpretation on the Board.” They are quick to define the battle lines in dichotomous terms, “Sorry, but it is the Taliban vs. the U.S…” The more ardent of the pro-American posters refer to the “Blame America First Club;” some refer to the “Leftist-Taliban Coalition” as do pro-American French posters.
However, unlike the French and Brazilian posters, even critical American posters do not wish to identify as “anti-American.” Rather, they frame themselves as anti-policy or anti-Bush administration. Some critical posters maintain that they support the United States or the American people but not its current government. This is especially true with posters who critique the Bush administration's military response to 9/11 but maintain their support of the United States. As we have seen, pro-Americans interpret this stance as support for the Taliban. In response to the pro-Americans, a poster who favors a non-military response to 9/1 denies the charge that he supports the Taliban:
There may be sentiments that bombing Afghanistan is an unwise solution at the moment, but barring the rare “hit and run” posters who pop-in to spew their propaganda, I do not take anyone's desire here for a non-military course of action to be automatically associated with a pro-Taliban stance. They are two different positions. While we all have very different views on what courses of action to take and what might have caused Sept 11th, as well as not giving a hoot about any causes, I have seen no regular poster here going: “Yeah, Taliban!” That's just not the case. Believe me, if we suspect someone here is pro-Taliban and anti-USA, our feelings towards that poster will be made loud and clear across the board.
Unlike Brazilian and French anti-American posters, even this critical poster does not give a “hoot” about the causes of 9/11 as justifying the attacks. These posters are quick to define themselves as not“anti-USA.” As one of them explains, “…such questioning of the veracity of DOD statements is more than justified and certainly not anti-American and most defiantly NOT ”pro” Taliban as you so carelessly assert.” Another demands, “Who's pro-Taliban here? For those who might argue against how the United States is responding to Sept 11th, I certainly wouldn't categorize them as being pro-Taliban.”
In contrast, pro-American posters who are staunch supporters of a military response reject peaceful or non-military responses as ineffective. As one explains, “It's amazing to me the number of pacifists who would want the United States to only chant peace songs, light candles and hold hands. (Barrrffffff!!)…We are at war. And it's time to rid our planet of terrorists like the Taliban.” These pro-Americans frame legal or non-military responses as inadequate because they cannot protect the United States against future attacks:
Yes, maybe if we say pretty please they will abandon their lone mission in life to kill innocent Americans inspired by what they believe is a calling from the Almighty. They sound like rational, reasonable people to me. The only way to appease them is for America to cease to exist and live as they do. Maybe you don't value your freedom and believe that dying to keep it is worthy, but I do. Tell ya what, if I give you the papers will you go “serve” Bin Laden? Go talk with him, and convince him that his view of the Koran is wrong. I'm sure he'll listen.
Almost universally, they support vigorous action on the part of the United States government both at home and abroad because the “issue is self defense.” For this reason, they believe that Americans should rally behind a military response that will destroy what they consider to be a common threat: “The issue is simple. Regardless of religious beliefs, whether you are a hawk or a dove, right wing or left wing, when a mad dog comes into your neighborhood and attacks people, you shoot it…”.
It must be noted that, while many are angry, the majority of pro-American posters firmly reject massive violence as ignoble. Rather, they advocate an “appropriate” response that will keep the United States safe from terrorists:
Killing them all is neither necessary nor possible. And why would we want to do that? After soundly defeating two atrocious enemies in WWII we find that today, Germany and Japan are amongst our staunchest allies. While we don't agree on every point with them, at least we can be reasonably secure in the thought that we won't be fighting them again any time soon. Victory for the U.S.? Absolutely. Annihilation of an entire culture? Not my idea of a noble goal. Fight and defeat the enemy using all necessary force. While he may never be your truest friend, if defeated soundly enough, maybe he can be crossed off the dangerous enemy list.
For this pro-American, it is the United States' duty to use “all necessary force” to make the United States and the world safe from terrorists. Like the Brazilian and French fora, the divide between those who affirm and those who critique the United States becomes the most salient issue defining the discourse. It is the primary lens through which many regular posters view each other and the issues they discuss.
The New York Times: 10/23/01-10/29/01
By the end of October, however, there is ideological division in all three fora driven by anti-Americans and their opponents. This shift on the NY Times' forum from unity to division is crystal clear. By the last week of October, only 32.7% of posters express non-ideological sentiments regarding the two stances compared to 92% in September. Anti-American comments climb from 4% to 34.6%, while pro-American posts also climb to 32.7% of all posts. These percentages indicate the dramatic shift in the forum's solidarity during the first week (Table 6B). Discourse of critical evaluation now more closely resembles the French and Brazilian fora.
In addition, pop-in posters have become a small minority by the end of October, contributing only 12% of posts. Unlike Le Monde's forum, this shift is reflected in the total number of posts that has decreased to 1,848 for the week (Table 2B, Figure 2B). Regular forum members generate 88% of posts and are highly interactive. Whether through affirmation or sanction, posters address another participant 96% on the NY Times, an increase from 41% in the week following 9/11.
However, while posters on all three fora are likely to be critical of one another, American posters' interactions are likely to be negative to a lesser degree (44%) than either Brazilian or French posters, at 69.3% and 80%, respectively. Only 36% of posts on the NY Times' forum are neutral, and 20% are supportive in character (Table 7B, Figure 7). Unlike French interactive posts that become more critical and less affirming with time, American interactive posts resemble their Brazilian counterparts. At the end of October, they are significantly less likely to be critical and slightly more likely to be supportive in nature.
Although international posters come to NY Times following 9/11 (8%), by the end of October they no longer represent an important presence (1%) (Table 7B, Figure 7). Finally, like the French, Americans experience a lightened cognitive burden evidenced by the average number of words per post. At the end of October, posts on the American forum are 32.94% shorter, on average 114 words in length, a shift from 170 words the week of 9/11 (Table 7, Figure 7).
The New York Times: Interactional Strategies
As the American forum coalesces into a group of regular posters, interaction becomes more intimate. In contrast to the Brazilians' use of formality as a strategy, Americans resemble their French counterparts in that they employ humor. This both encourages interaction and mitigates the horror of 9/11. Americans poke fun at themselves and others to lighten their ideological clashes with one another as they continue to debate:
FParker: I nominate John276 as the leader of the “democratic crusades” in all third world countries…*wink* Good luck and god-speed!! May you establish PepsiCo wherever injustice prevails!
John276: FParker, I accept your nomination. However, I'll have a Coke and a smile. One question. Did you have any substantive response to my post?
In this same spirit, posters employ wit to make ideological assertions such as this poster who combines condemnation of the terrorists with criticism of American foreign policy:
I would pay anything to see Osama's execution on pay-per-view. It would probably be more cruel to him and annoying to his followers if we kept him in prison for 40 years. The sight of Osama eating oatmeal in a cafeteria wearing an orange jumpsuit would be a good message to send to the world. He could share a cell with Noriega. They could compare their previous CIA paychecks.
Americans also use humor as affirmation for another poster or to support their own political positions. Given the events of the day, it usually takes the form of black humor:
BobJones: My proposal: Drop copies of Playboy, etc. sprinkled with radioactive dust in the area of the terrorist camps. Not enough to hurt them, but enough that they will glow in the dark when seen through special glasses. This should help our special forces considerably! We need to implement creative ideas, as creativity and flexibility are our best weapons. How about some more ideas?
Like the French, American posters from both camps are particularly adept at employing humor in short, pithy posts that serves a two-fold purpose. By using this technique they bolster their own camp's arguments and simultaneously lighten the weighty nature of the issues under discussion.