By Dave Avran
WE are human. Humans have disagreements. When humans have disagreements, we get vocal with our views.
Social media channels are a perfect medium for voicing one’s personal views. So what do you get when you mix humans with disagreements into the free-for-all environment of the Internet? You get a flame war.
A flame war is Net-speak for a seemingly endless online discourse where not much in facts or logic is written, in which place we have an ever increasing number of innuendos, name calling, outright lies and that old classic, ad-hominem attacks where an argument is directed against a person rather than the opinion.
According to Wikipedia, flaming is a hostile and insulting interaction between persons over the Internet, often involving the use of profanity. It can also be the swapping of insults back and forth or with many people teaming up on a single victim.
Flaming is frequently the result of a discussion on heated real-world issues such as politics, religion and philosophy, or of issues that polarise sub-populations, but can also be provoked by seemingly trivial differences.
Flaming, much like its obvious connotation, is inflammatory. This means that people are posting in such a way as to be argumentative, unreasonable, objectionable or confrontational in the extreme, and as a direct result of their actions are encouraging others to also become hostile.
A flame may have elements of a normal message or entry, but is distinguished by its intent. The motive for flaming is never dialectic, but rather social or psychological. Flamers are attempting to assert their authority, or establish a position of superiority. A flame war results when multiple users engage in provocative responses to an original post and can overshadow the natural, regular conversation if left unchecked.
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 specialise in flaming and target specific aspects of a conversation. In Malaysia we can commonly see the work of paid cyber-troopers from both sides of the political divide, especially in the comment sections of online news portals.
Online conversations often involve a variety of assumptions and motives unique to each individual user. Without social context, users often misinterpret the intentions of the original poster. In addition to the problems of conflicting mental models often present in online discussions, the inherent lack of face-to-face communication online can encourage hostility.
A lack of social context creates an element of anonymity, which allows users to feel insulated from the forms of punishment they might receive in a more conventional setting. Since Internet communication typically involves back-and-forth interactions, flaming incidents usually arise in response to a perception or misunderstanding aggravated by the inability to convey subtle indicators like non-verbal cues and facial expressions.
Flaming is a more destructive activity and not to be confused with trolling, which is equally ugly and unpleasant. Trolling is posting in an unnecessarily argumentative or confrontational way, often about any old subject, just for the fun of eliciting controversial reactions.
All said and done, flaming and trolling are both undesirable and completely unnecessary.