A Brief History of the Internet and World Wide Web

How did we get here?

Story of the Web


2000-2018 – Milestones in Online Journalism

September 11, 2001 – Users flock to the web for September 11th coverage.

February 01, 2003- News organizations seek eyewitness reporting after the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.

Space Shuttle Challenger explodes shortly after take-off.

September 2003 – Over half of the people in the United States — 150 million — went online, a record for web use.

May 2004 – Terrorist video is distributed online

December 26, 2004 – Online users share South Asia tsunami images and video.

July 7, 2005 – Cell phones help report London subway bombing. The BBC Online website recorded an all-time bandwidth peak.

Adam Stacey, on a tube train between King’s Cross and Russell Square.

December 2005 – On average, 46 million visit newspaper sites each month.

August 2006 – Video is the most common form of newspaper multimedia.

January 14, 2007- For the first time in a federal court, the press section has two seats for bloggers. This happens during the perjury trial of former White House aide Lewis Libby.

April 16, 2007- Student cell phones help report Virginia Tech shooting.

July 23, 2007 – CNN and YouTube host presidential debate.

October 2007- Google Maps help report California’s wildfires

2008 – Forty-six percent of Americans have used the Internet, e-mail or cell phone text messaging to get news about the campaign.

2008 – Eight-seven percent of U.S. uses mobile phones.

2008 – The Internet hosts more than 130 million blogs, including the White House.2008 – Pulitzer Prizes are broadened to include online-only news.

2008 – Fifty-eight percent of newspapers publish user-generated photos.

May 13, 2008 – Online sites report on the Chinese earthquake in which around 70,000 people died.

January 15, 2009 – First Hudson River crash-landing photo sent with Twitter.

“There’s a plane in the Hudson. I’m on the ferry going to pick up the people. Crazy.”

June 20, 2009 – The “Neda” YouTube video of a young woman dying on the streets of Tehran spreads quickly among social networks and traditional news organizations.

September 2009 – Seventy percent of journalists use social networks for reporting


(Added after the Poynter Institute report)

April 2010 – ProPublica, in an historic first for online journalism, won a coveted Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting about controversial deaths at a New Orleans medical center following Hurricane Katrina.

April 2010 – Apple releases the tablet computer the iPad.

2010 – Twitter grows by more than 100 million accounts. Top trending topics include: Gulf Oil Spill, FIFA World Cup, Inception, Haiti Earthquake, Vuvuzela, Apple iPad, Google Android, Justin Bieber, Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows, and Pulpo Paul.

June 16, 2010 – Stephen Colbert, tweets: “In honor of oil-soaked birds, ‘tweets’ are now ‘gurgles.'” It is the number 1 retweet of 2010.

November 28, 2010 – Wikileaks publishes over 250,000 leaked United States embassy cables, the largest set of confidential documents to be released into the public domain to date.

(All of the above from Poynter Institute: 2000-2010 Moments that have transformed journalism)

January 2011 – Social media: Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube used to organize and document protests in Tunisia and Egypt.

Dubbed the “Jasmine Revolution,” this sparked a larger unrest and led to the “Arab Spring.” These events also illustrates how repressive regimes can “shut down” or censor the Internet when it suits their purposes.

March 2011 – Millions turn to social media in the recovery and relief operations in Japan after a devastating earthquake.


May 1, 2011 – Rumors of Osama bin Laden’s death hit Twitter before President Obama makes the official announcement.

First, Pakistani Shohaib Athar, who was awoken by the sound of a helicopter above his house, tweeted about it, unknowingly breaking the news of the US raid on the compound in Abbottabad.

Keith Urbahn, a former aide to Donald Rumsfeld, tweeted the above at 10:24 p.m.

President Obama on Osama
Followed by above tweet from President Obama, at 11:30 p.m.

August 2011 – Reporters, government officials, non-profits use social media extensively to report, disseminate emergency info and to help those who need extra assistance in face of the massive storm. Case Study: Three Days, One Storm, a Deluge of Digital Data

October 2011 – The Occupy Wall Street movement grows exponentially with social media playing a big role in its spread.

Occupy tweets in July:

Occupy tweets in October:
Source: “How Occupy Wall Street Occupied Twitter, Too

2010 in Review

December 2011 – Egypt, Japan and Charlie Sheen’s “tigerblood” top the most tweeted topics.

grandiose Newt

January 2012Republican candidates turn to Twitter to mock their opponents, to monitor voter response to debate topics and to keep a close eye on political pundits. “With 100 million active users, more than 10 times as many as in the 2008 election, Twitter has emerged as a critical tool for political campaigns, allowing them to reach voters, gather data and respond to charges immediately. — NYT

Wikipedia blackout

January 18, 2012 – Wikipedia (English) and thousands of other sites join together to stage a blackout, protesting Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), controversial anti-piracy legislation which they believed promoted censorship. In addition to the blackout, petitions were signed by millions and rallies held in protest of the bills. Within the week, both bills were put on hold.

January 26, 2012Twitter announces that it will censor tweets in countries if they considered illegal under that nation’s laws. “As we continue to grow internationally, we will enter countries that have different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression. Some differ so much from our ideas that we will not be able to exist there. Others are similar but, for historical or cultural reasons, restrict certain types of content, such as France or Germany, which ban pro-Nazi content.”

March 1, 2012 – Google proposes new privacy rules due to go into effect at the start of March. While Google says it will be more convenient for users, many say it is invasive. You can find out what Google thinks about your age, gender and tastes here. Or type www.google.com/settings/ads.

Google ads

April 2012
twittercoverageThe Pulitzer Prize is awarded to western Alabama’s Tuscaloosa News for breaking news reporting based on its coverage of the massive tornado outbreak that hit the region, in which it heavily relied on Twitter.

July 20, 2012 – Social bookmarking site Reddit covers the Colorado movie theater shooting. – Reddit, With approximately 70 million unique visitors a month and around five billion page views, the influence of Reddit continues to grow.

theaterDuring breaking news of the July 20, 2012, movie-­theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, Reddit posted stories from victims of the attack and created a comprehensive timeline of the attack. During the same event, false Facebook profiles were circulated, naming erroneous suspects.

December 14, 2012 – Social media sites spread breaking news and misinformation during horrifying murder of killing of at 20 elementary school students and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut. The New York Times public editor blogs “Errors in Newtown Shootings Coverage Reflect Growing Pressures.”


Data mining and data visualization become increasingly important journalistic tools as search terms, social media sites, governmental records and to a lesser degree smartphones, offer up vast amount of information for evaluation. Certain news sites, like The Guardian’s Data Store, offer new ways of storytelling with insightful data crunching.


March 2013
A comScore report, “2013 Mobile Future in Focus” reveals that the number of smartphone users grew 30% in 2012. 50% of Americans now owning a smartphone and 50 million own tablets. The report also says that one in three minutes spent online (37%) is now on mobile devices — and growing. Nearly two-thirds of tablet owners use the devices for news and half for smart phones.


April 18, 2013 – Not long after the FBI released a photo of a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing, a Reddit user posted a picture of the suspect, side-by-side to a missing Brown student, Sunil Tripathi, 22. The speculation spread rapidly through Twitter, resulting in a wrongful identification of a man later found dead in the Providence River.

June 2013

The Guardian publishes a report that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been monitoring data from Verizon, Google, Facebook, Apple, YouTube, AOLand other online companies in a program named PRISM. Data includes email, chat, and search history.

new prism slide


2015 Net Neutrality Establishes Rules to Keep Internet Access Open

Because the record overwhelmingly supports adopting rules and demonstrates that three specific practices invariably harm the open Internet — blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization — this order bans each of them, applying the same rules to both fixed and mobile broadband Internet access service. –PARAGRAPH 14

November 2016 – Fake News on Social Media Networks Impacts 2016 Presidential Election


“A fuller picture of Russia’s use of social media to influence the 2016 US election has begun to emerge, weeks after Facebook announced that “inauthentic” accounts most likely operating out of Russia had purchased $100,000 worth of political ads between 2015 and 2016.” — Business Insider

July 11, 2018 – Net Neutrality Repealed

In 2015, the F.C.C. stripped the F.T.C. — the nation’s premier consumer protection agency — of its authority over internet service providers. This was a loss for consumers and a mistake we have reversed,” – Ajit Pai, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.

August 24, 2018 – Google Bends to Chinese Demands for Censorship

Inside Google’s Plan to Launch a Censored Search Engine in China


Sources: PBS.org/IdeaLab, Mashable, Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab, Digital Journalism Study 2010: Blogs, Apps and Paywalls – How the Digital World is Changing the Way Journalists and Publishers Work, Web Journalism by James Glen Sovall, The Poynter Institute, Online News Association, Interactive Narratives, Webby Awards, Digital Journalism Study 2010: Blogs, Apps and Paywalls – How the Digital World is Changing the Way Journalists and Publishers Work