As the outcome of O.J. Simpson's civil trial spread instantly yesterday, thousands of Netizens got online to discuss the verdict.
Many online services flashed bulletins into already crowded chats rooms as the jury's decisions was being read, finding Simpson liable for the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ron Goldman. People discussed, cheered, and questioned the verdict just minutes after Simpson was ordered to pay $8.5 million in damages to the Goldman family.
"The chat area is a great place for people to talk to others about the issue of the day," said Michael Silberman, executive editor for the MSNBC Web site. "It's kind of like a town hall."
From the start, both the criminal and civil trial sparked heated debate just about everywhere people could be found: on buses, in coffee houses, and at the office.
On the Net, the same public forum about both cases has grown. But some say the anonymity of online chat makes it easier to talk freely about the sensitive issues that the cases stirs up such as race, class, and the justice system.
Simpson traffic on chat sites beat that of many other prominent news events, chat producers said today.
On MSNBC, which chose to broadcast the Simpson verdict over President Clinton's State of the Union address, attendance in the Simpson chat room was four times higher than that of the presidential speech, according to Nate Gehl, MSNBC's community producer.
Thousands of people passed through MSNBC's Simpson chat room throughout the night. One of the company's legal experts also joined in, answering questions about both verdicts.
Yahoo Chat launched only a few weeks ago, yet hundreds of people logged on to talk about the case. People discussed the evidence, the integrity of the justice system, and whether Simpson was framed.
"Other than being high-profile, this is something that everybody has an opinion on. It's a passionate news story," said Doug Hirsch, producer of Yahoo Communities.
"The anonymity factor allows people to be more brutally honest than they normally would be. It's good because it fundamentally allows people to express how the feel," he said.
And free expression was indeed in abundance. One Netizen asked: "O.J. is rich, famous, and black. Some say he was found innocent because he was rich and famous, and some say he was mistreated by the judicial system because he was black. Who's right?"
Another shouted: "My feeling on the verdict is, 'If the shoes didn't fit, they had to acquit!' They didn't convict him in the criminal trial, so how in the hell could the make him pay for something he DIDN'T DO?"
Yahoo's site is still open, but MSNBC closed its O.J. chat room last night.