THE SIMPSON VERDICTS : Outcome Sets Off Sparks on Internet


The lofty dream for cyberspace was that as it grew, it would provide a forum for a wide range of opinions and thoughtful discussions, leading to greater understanding.

But judging from the reaction to the O.J. Simpson verdict on the Internet and online services, the dream is still just that.

"THE PIG IS GUILTY" declared one of the thousands of America Online users crowded into chat areas just after the courtroom announcement. "Juice is loose!" said another with a different view, adding, "Hope he gets the kids."

Perhaps seeking a sense of community at a tense time, 2,466 users crowded into a special O.J. Simpson chatroom on America Online as the verdict was being read. After the verdict, messages were added to the Internet's famed news group at the rate of about 100 an hour.

A man who uses the Jet Propulsion Laboratory online server happily declared, "Lotta people counted their chickens before they hatched. Anyone got a good recipe for crow?"

Meanwhile, a man from Hawaii sadly said, "Clearly, Nicole was right when she said, 'He's going to get away with it.' "

One movie-savvy user on the Sausalito-based online service the Well simply wrote, "Oliver Stone, call your office."

All this chat seemed to provide entertainment for at least one English Internet user. "What's the next big televised trial you've got lined up for us in the UK?" asked Steve. "We've had a few hours of O.J. live a night plus highlights, and very enjoyable it's been, too."

With an eye toward the future, his and several messages were grouped under the plaintive title, "What Will Become of This Newsgroup?"

The hottest topic on all cyber-services appeared to be racism. Perhaps emboldened by the anonymity of the computer, the users typed emotional--and blunt--remarks to strangers. And in cyberspace, all races can gather in one spot without having to see each other face to face.

Some used the occasion to further hate messages. "The killer O.J. may be free, due to a racist jury, but many of us will not be hiring any blacks," wrote a Corralitos, Calif., man. "At my company, 'Afros Need Not Apply.' "

In America Online's NetNoir chat room, which focuses on Afrocentric culture, a man from Virginia said the verdict had less to do with race than with Simpson being able to afford the best lawyers.

A user from Oakland asked him, "Are you white or black?" to which the Virginia man answered, "white."

Then came the following exchange, beginning with the Oakland man:

"You do not have to live the life of a black person in America. You cannot imagine what it is like for us to live here."

"The fact that my race explains my position to you says a lot about how non-impartial you are."

"I am not impartial. I am a black man."

Over at the Well, a user who uses the handle Sparkman said, "As I view the televised reaction from different groups, white and black, this strikes me as perhaps the most racially divisive issue in recent memory.

"The overwhelming disparity between white and black respondents is simply stunning."

Finally, a user with the initials JRC noted an irony in the television images he was watching.

"I think it was amusing that a case that started with endless coverage of a white van driving slowly ended with endless coverage of a white van driving slowly," he wrote.

"That's entertainment."

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