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Flaming / Flame War
Flaming is reacting to someone’s group posting or e-mail in a hostile manner by publicly chastising the person or bombarding the person with nasty e-mail. A flame war occurs when two or more users flame each other in an escalating manner that threatens to continue unabated.
Flaming can occur in any social online forum, including social media sites, forums, Internet Relay Chat (IRC), YouTube, email, and online gaming networks. Flaming may occur in response to improper online netiquette, annoyance with someone’s comment or post, or as an escalation of a debate on a socially- or emotionally-heated topic.
Flaming my also occurred completely unprovoked, either as a form of online bullying or by individuals looking to incite online controversy. Such individuals are commonly known as flamers. This type of “flame trolling” can be common on organizations’ social media pages, such as a company’s Facebook page, where individuals wish to incite controversy in order to harm the organization or disrupt their business.
Frequently Asked Questions
What separates flaming from a lively debate?
An online debate crosses the line into flaming when the direction shifts from appropriate comments to personal attacks or hostile statements. Much like offline debates, a certain degree of both passion and opposition are necessary for a lively discussion; however, once the tone shifts to angrier, targeted attacks on a specific participant or group of participants, the offending poster is no longer effectively contributing to the conversation, but is instead derailing it in order to vent their own childish frustrations. For this reason, flaming is highly discouraged and may result in the flamer being banned from a site or group.
How can you stop flaming?
Flaming can be difficult to stop, particularly if it escalates to involving multiple posters. In forums or other closed groups, the simplest solution is often for the administrator to warn the group or even close the discussion temporarily. On a more public stage, such as a company’s Facebook page, doing so may be more harmful to the company’s reputation than working to quell the unruly discussion. If the flaming involves profanity or personal threats of any kind, companies should remove the comments and, if necessary, notify local authorities; however, if the flaming simply involves accusations against the organization, removing the poster may result in cries of censorship. It is wise to consider the ramifications of such action before proceeding.
If the flaming is directed at a specific person in the form of a personal attack or cyberbullying, depending on the severity and/or frequency of the attack, law enforcement may need to become involved, particularly if threats are issued or the attack is aimed at a minor. For more information about protecting children online, see our Safety Tips for Parents guide.