Flaming (Internet)

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Flaming, also known as bashing, is hostile and insulting interaction between Internet users. Flaming usually occurs in the social context of a Internet forum, Internet Relay Chat (IRC), Usenet, by e-mail, game servers such as Xbox Live or Playstation Network, and on video-sharing websites. It is frequently the result of the discussion of heated real-world issues such as politics, sports, religion, and philosophy, or of issues that polarise subpopulations, but can also be provoked by seemingly trivial differences.

Deliberate flaming, as opposed to flaming as a result of emotional discussions, is carried out by individuals known as flamers, who are specifically motivated to incite flaming. These users specialize in flaming and target specific aspects of a controversial conversation, and are usually more subtle than their counterparts. Their counterparts are known as trolls who are less "professional" and write obvious and blunt remarks to incite a flame war, as opposed to the more subtle, yet precise flamers.[1]



Jay Forrester, in discussing participants' internal modeling of a discussion, says:

Mental models are fuzzy, incomplete, and imprecisely stated. Furthermore, within a single individual, mental models change with time, even during the flow of a single conversation. The human mind assembles a few relationships to fit the context of a discussion. As debate shifts, so do the mental models. Even when only a single topic is being discussed, each participant in a conversation employs a different mental model to interpret the subject. Fundamental assumptions differ but are never brought into the open. Goals are different but left unstated. It is little wonder that compromise takes so long. And even when consensus is reached, the underlying assumptions may be fallacies that lead to laws and programs that fail. The human mind is not adapted to understanding correctly the consequences implied by a mental model. A mental model may be correct in structure and assumptions but, even so, the human mind--either individually or as a group consensus--is apt to draw the wrong implications for the future.[2]

Thus, online conversations often involve a variety of assumptions and motives unique to each individual user. Without social context, users are often helpless to know the intentions of their counterparts. In addition to the problems of conflicting mental models presented often present in online discussions, the inherent lack of face-to-face communication online can encourage flaming. Professor Norman Johnson, commenting on the propensity of Internet posters to flame one another, states:

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