April 17, 2007 / 5:19 PM / 10 years ago

Facebook becomes bulletin board for Virginia Tech

<p>Virginia Tech students stand arm in arm as they overlook a memorial on the university's campus in Blacksburg, Virginia, April 17, 2007.Chris Keane</p>

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - "I'm ok at VT" on the Internet social network Facebook has become an online bulletin board for Virginia Tech university students to post their whereabouts and condition after the campus shooting that killed 32 people.

Some 236 groups related to Virginia Tech have been set up on Facebook, a sign that Internet social networks are beginning to replace e-mail and cell phones as the preferred method for spreading information quickly among younger generations.

The "I'm ok at VT" group included a list of those killed as well as details about the condition of others injured.

One student asked about whereabouts of her friend in a posting on Tuesday morning. "She sits beside me in my Abnormal Psychology class and I really want to know if she is ok," said Victoria Borkey.

A message posted shortly afterward said the person had been one of the shooting fatalities and called for prayers for her family.

Another Facebook member, Andy Millman, pleaded with members of the group to only post information if they are "absolutely positive" about a person's condition, noting one of his friends was inaccurately described as OK.

Other students set up a Web site, www.vtincident.com, as one outlet to discuss the shooting. Police identified Cho Seung-Hui, a 23-year-old Virginia Tech student from South Korea who was a legal U.S. resident, as the shooter.

On Facebook, some students have posted a black ribbon with the university logo "VT" over it to commemorate the victims, replacing their own profile photo, and spread invitations to attend a candlelight vigil on Tuesday evening.

One student on the Virginia Tech campus formed "Christians Praying for Virginia Tech" and attracted 1,378 members. "Canada Supports Virginia Tech" drew 309 participants. Another Canadian led group drew in 5,200. "A Tribute from Muslim Students," created by a Loyola Chicago student, attracted 32 members.

Another group included repeated slurs against Asians, but members flooded it with messages calling for its removal.

The shift to the Internet came as cell phone networks were stressed during the crisis. Verizon Wireless, the second-biggest U.S. wireless carrier, said it saw four times normal call volume, peaking around midday, hours after the shooting.

In addition to posting notices and cell phone calls, students turned to instant messaging to spread information.

Virginia Tech student body president Adeel Khan said leaders on campus convened an online chat immediately after the shootings to discuss what to do for the shocked university community.

"Every student leader on campus was chatting about what we need to do to start the healing process," he told CNN. "We've mobilized hundreds of students to plan a candlelight vigil for tonight."

Additional reporting by Yinka Adegoke in New York and Eric Auchard in San Francisco

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