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Bert, Britney rival Osama and anthrax on the Web

What do Osama bin Laden, Britney Spears, Bert from “Sesame Street” and the heavy metal band Anthrax have in common?

They were all among the top searches on Internet Web sites for the last week, proving yet again the Internet is nothing if not a mix of serious news alongside a funhouse of wacky pop culture mania, boy bands and hoaxes.

Web searches for anthrax, the deadly bacteria that has been mailed to some government and news offices, led many confused surfers to the Web site of the heavy metal band of the same name.

“The boys of ‘the good Anthrax,’ now in a position they never expected, have produced a press release attempting to clear their name (they’re considering changing it to Basket Full of Puppies),” Aaron Schatz, who compiles a list of top search terms on Lycos Inc.’s search engine, said.

But the music industry won out, at least on the search site Ask Jeeves, which lets users ask full questions instead of typing in keywords. The top question posted by Web surfers was not about terrorism or war, but where to find song lyrics.

The question: “Where can I learn about the bacterial infection anthrax?” came in second to people looking for the words to N’Sync, Nelly and Usher songs, the site said Friday.

A very angry Bert – the one from Sesame Street – was also inadvertently pulled into the war. He ended up circulating on the Web when a pro-bin Laden protester found a Web site called “Bert is Evil” – which displayed photos doctored to show the Muppet next to Hitler, the Ku Klux Klan and now bin Laden.

“It seems that some eager pro-bin Laden protester, searching the Internet for pictures of his murderous hero, found the Bert is Evil Web site and neglected to cut the Muppet from the photo,” said Schatz.

The Bert is Evil Web site, which has since been taken down by its creator, was the 29th most popular search term punched into the Lycos site, Schatz said.

Searches for the antibiotic Cipro gained ground as a search term on Lycos, while gas masks became less popular following reports they would not be effective in a biological attack.

Just below searches for “American Flag,” the ninth most popular search on Lycos, was Britney Spears, who raced up to No. 10 after another rumor the pop star died in a car crash.

“Like the December 2000 Eminem death rumor, this one was caused by a mock CNN web page,” said Schatz.

Roughly 10 percent of searches on Lycos were for bin Laden jokes or cartoons. There are also searches for bin Laden games.

“The most popular is called Bin Laden Liquors, in which you shoot at a shopkeeper bin Laden taking hostages in a liquor store,” said Schatz. But the strangest search of all, he said, is the one for Osama bin Laden toilet paper.

ToiletPaperWorld.com is one of the top suppliers of the toilet paper, which has “Wipe out terrorism” printed around bin Laden’s face.

“We have gotten a lot of interest,” said Kenn Fischburg, president of ToiletPaperWorld.com, who said a site called IHateTerrorists.com was his first customer.

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