By: Peter Svensson, AP Technology Writer
(AP) In spite of being mostly knocked offline, the Web site of Arab satellite news network Al-Jazeera was among the most sought-after on the Internet last week.
The Web portal Lycos reported that “Al-Jazeera” and variant spellings became its top search term last week, with three times more searches than “sex.”
Al-Jazeera drew intense interest from Web surfers after it carried Iraqi TV footage of dead and captive U.S. soldiers in Iraq. U.S. television networks had decided not to air footage of the corpses. Al-Jazeera later honored a U.S. request to stop until families could be notified, a statement from the network said.
The Internet’s leading search engine, Google, said “Al-Jazeera” was the term that showed the greatest increase in the week ending March 31. Google does not report absolute rankings of search terms.
Hackers also homed in on Al-Jazeera, bringing down its Web site early last week in what the Web host called an attack characterized by a flood of bogus traffic. Hackers calling themselves the “Freedom Cyber Force Militia” later diverted visitors to the English site to a page with a U.S. flag.
The managing editor of Al-Jazeera’s English site, Joanne Tucker, said it would be back up by Wednesday and that steps were being taken to make the Web pages impervious to hacking attempts.
Al-Jazeera is based in the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar. It is funded by Qatar’s government but is an unusually independent voice in the Arab world. Its English Web site launched last week with the aim of giving Western audiences an Arab perspective.
At least one other regional site, Arabia.com of the United Arab Emirates, was blocked by hackers last week, said Duri al-Ajrami, the site’s marketing manager.
U.S. Internet users are visiting foreign sites in huge numbers for news on the war, according to a study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project released Tuesday.
In the conflict’s first six days, 10% of Americans who use the Internet visited the sites of foreign news organizations, the study said. This compared to 32% who visited Web sites of U.S. television networks for war news. The telephone poll surveyed 999 Internet users and had a 4% margin of error.
Besides Al-Jazeera and Arabia.com, there are plenty of English-language news sites with an Arab perspective.
Jennifer Salan at the Arab American Institute in Washington said they include Lebanon’s privately owned Daily Star newspaper, as well as The Jordan Times and Saudi Arabia’s Arab News, both government-owned.
As the Web troubles mounted last week, Al-Jazeera launched a subscription service that sends brief news items in Arabic or English as text messages to cell phones.
Text messaging is a popular form of communication in Europe and Asia, but has yet to catch on in the United States. The service was not accepting subscriptions to U.S. cell phone numbers.