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Community Building and User Generated Content Forum

Members Gone Wild: The Psychology of Flaming

 5:44 pm on Feb 20, 2007 (gmt 0)

[This is] part of a larger pattern plaguing the world of virtual communications, a problem recognized since the earliest days of the Internet: flaming, or sending a message that is taken as offensive, embarrassing or downright rude.

The hallmark of the flame is that... thoughts expressed while sitting alone at the keyboard would be put more diplomatically — or go unmentioned — face to face.

Flaming has a technical name, the “online disinhibition effect,” which psychologists apply to the many ways people behave with less restraint in cyberspace.

I'm sure these comments would spark agreement from most community operators and participants. The are from an interesting NYTimes article [nytimes.com] by Daniel Goleman, author of “Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships.”

The article is a bit short on ideas for avoiding flaming, though. (It suggests that video interaction transmits facial expressions and might cut flames.)

What do you think about Goleman's conclusions, and do you have any techniques for cutting flames?



 6:20 pm on Feb 20, 2007 (gmt 0)

use smileys!


 6:37 pm on Feb 20, 2007 (gmt 0)

It may be strange coming from me (of all people), but not responding usually works.

However, that's not to say that you should take it on the chin, but you should examine what has been said objectively.

There may be some truth to what the other person is saying, whether or not the person would say it to you directly. Just because the person might not say it to your face, that doesn't make it untrue.

In other words : consider what they've said objectively, and don't bother responding.

Just my 2 cents.

[edited by: panic at 6:44 pm (utc) on Feb. 20, 2007]


 6:37 pm on Feb 20, 2007 (gmt 0)

Allot of flaming has to do with the insecurity of the one doing the flaming... Most flammers are wanting to be something they are not and tend to be rude, obnoxious, and know it all to the board...

By getting a response this sets into motion the exact respnse they wanted to continue down this never ending road of who is better....

When we all learn we are nothing but a vapor and lean on not our understanding but God's then I see flamming in that person replaced with knowledge and understanding, to carry on a conversation even though there is disagreement it remains civil and usually something good comes from this...

Flaming is a no were nothing but garbage thing and should be avoided at all cost... to me a complete waste of time...and not worthy of a response.


 6:44 pm on Feb 20, 2007 (gmt 0)

Interesting article -

One thing that perpetuates flaming is that people respond to it.

Responses are reinforcing. Behavior that's reinforced increases in frequency. Behavior that receives no reinforcement (i.e. is ignored) extinguishes itself (eventually*).

So the problem lies not just with the flamer or troll, but with the people who can't resist talking back... how to educate and motivate an entire community to turn the other cheek?

*(there's a phenomenon known as an "extinction burst" - if a behavior was reinforced in the past and suddenly receives no reinforcement it is likely to increase in intensity before it extinguishes. Picture how people tend to punch a broken elevator button harder and harder if the doors don't close the first time. But if you wait it out it WILL still go away.)


 6:45 pm on Feb 20, 2007 (gmt 0)

Here's a flame. What does 'Allot' mean? :)


 6:59 pm on Feb 20, 2007 (gmt 0)

I tend to write and type very quickly. So my words can be straight forward and to the point. People would read them as demanding or rude. So, I made a habit of using smileys LOL. A wikipedia article on the topic talks about the deliberate nature of flaming. I see this frequently on social networks where people (especially young or insecure people) are trying to sound better than someone else (more popular, wealthier, better educated, etc), or take deliberate stabs at someone in their social circle. To me it comes across as bitterness, but to those involved it can really hurt or make them very angry. It is a cowardly move because they can hide behind the relative saftey of cyberspace and the privacy of their home.


 7:08 pm on Feb 20, 2007 (gmt 0)

edit: I was speaking of forums, not e-mail.


 7:24 pm on Feb 20, 2007 (gmt 0)

Sometimes disinhibition is required to be heard. In some forums, I've repeatedly run a simple experiment:

a) Answer a technical question I'm expert about in the most polite manner: "I believe if you try X, you will get the result you're looking for."

b) Answer a technical question I'm expert about in traditional geek-belligerent style: "I assume you didn't try X, if you had, you would have seen [..]"

In some forums, no matter how many contextual clues there are in my post that indicate expertise, style "a" will often result in dismissal "No, I don't think that could be it.", while style "b" is almost always successful, in the sense of actually being taken seriously.

It reminds me of how often Asian programmers at a particular large Redmond software company get rated "not assertive enough", which I think is another way of saying "we want more a**holes like ourselves" :-)


 7:40 pm on Feb 20, 2007 (gmt 0)

dictionary response to flame
portion, assign
appropriate, earmark, set aside, reserve, allow - give or assign a share of money or time to a particular person or cause; "I will earmark this money for your research"
allocate, apportion - distribute according to a plan or set apart for a special purpose; "I am allocating a loaf of bread to everyone on a daily basis"; "I'm allocating the rations for the camping trip"
deal out, dish out, dispense, distribute, dole out, mete out, parcel out, shell out, lot, administer, allot, deal - administer or bestow, as in small portions; "administer critical remarks to everyone present"; "dole out some money"; "shell out pocket money for the children"; "deal a blow to someone"
2. allot - allow to have; "grant a privilege"
accord, grant
give - legal use: accord by verdict; "give a decision for the plaintiff"
give - transfer possession of something concrete or abstract to somebody; "I gave her my money"; "can you give me lessons?"; "She gave the children lots of love and tender loving care"
enfranchise - grant voting rights
3. allot - administer or bestow, as in small portions; "administer critical remarks to everyone present"; "dole out some money"; "shell out pocket money for the children"; "deal a blow to someone"
deal out, dish out, dispense, distribute, dole out, mete out, parcel out, shell out, lot, administer, deal
give - transfer possession of something concrete or abstract to somebody; "I gave her my money"; "can you give me lessons?"; "She gave the children lots of love and tender loving care"
allot, portion, assign - give out or allot; "We were assigned new uniforms"
reallot - alot again; "They were realloted additional farm land"
deal - distribute to the players in a game; "Who's dealing?"
apply, give - give or convey physically; "She gave him First Aid"; "I gave him a punch in the nose"

'''''see you can learn by not flaming''''

Me being an old country boy thinks it means many, mucho number

But I am wrong... Course us southern mules dont think like most folks.....


 8:24 pm on Feb 20, 2007 (gmt 0)

Online flaming is great.
You can say what you think without getting a smack in the mouth.
If someone is an idiot, why not tell them?
I frequent a popular forum where 90% of all posts are flames.Even the name of the forum is a flame.
Not one person has died.


 9:22 pm on Feb 20, 2007 (gmt 0)

Not all flames may be intended as flames, that since we can go over and over what someone typed, there is a tendency to take things too seriously.


 10:39 pm on Feb 20, 2007 (gmt 0)

>>If someone is an idiot, why not tell them?

There are lots of good reasons. The biggest, perhaps, is new member retention. I've been in forums where first time posters, instead of being welcomed, are flamed for asking a dumb question or one that was answered previously. I'd guess that 80-90% of those newbies, who might have become productive contributors in the long run, leave either immediately or after they get their question answered.


 12:12 am on Feb 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

I agree with rogerd. There are some forums out there where newbies are treated pretty poorly - hazing and other agressive behaviours are pretty common. For some topics, it doesn't matter - people can vote with their mouse. For medical forums dealing with rare diseases, those behaviours are detestable. One one I am familiar with, the prevailing attitude is that if you really have the disease, you will 'develop a thick skin' and hang around, maybe learn to enjoy the abuse.

The reinforcement that MamaDawg mentioned is also very real, though I have seen a different kind ... the bullies tend to stick around, while the normal people learn-up and then leave. Over time, a board sinks to whatever depth the moderators tolerate. The problem with ignoring flamers and trolls is that it only takes 1 or 2 people to bite and the thread continues.


 8:22 am on Feb 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

you are all idiots


 12:06 pm on Feb 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

I agree

This thread is rubbish, get back to work....

Flames/ers can work in your favour. Some of the funniest things I have read on the net have been responses to

A. Stupid questions
B. Clever questions
C. Trolls
D. Flame replies

An opinionated, intelligent, experienced contributor who likes to flame a little is a valuable asset - I'd say, as important to some communities, as the long term quality content contributor.

It's good to have a common enemy.

I know of sites that employ fake flamers on a regular basis to incite people to post on topics they might not usually contribute to. The fallout is increased posting elsewhere. It's not ethical, but it works...


 3:22 pm on Feb 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

>>the bullies tend to stick around, while the normal people learn-up and then leave

I've seen situations where a highly productive, long term member with lots of knowledge and great willingness to share it has left a community because of one or a few obnoxious flamers. These flamers are often relatively new members with little actual knowledge who question the senior member's expertise, motivations, etc. A community that permits this risks losing its greatest assets.

Some communities, I suppose, can prosper with higher member turnover as long as the current members are very active. And some forums (e.g., a political debate forum) may come with an expectation of more ad hominem remarks. Still, flaming will have a corrosive effect on most communities.

I'd distinguish between trolls and flamers - in small doses, trolls (who post in a controversial manner just to stir up the community) can sometimes help a community. Flamers rarely do - by attacking another member, they focus the discussion on that member, and the very fact that a debate is occurring is likely to be off-putting to the member in question - even if many posts are supportive.


 5:06 pm on Feb 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

I completely agree with your post and disagree with the post this is nonsense Mod or not. Why as I use to visit a forum webproworld more often than I do now, but it has become an ego trip for a few with countless pages of nothing but attacks useless information and needless junk.

Just went there saw an intresting post began reading it 8 pages of post but after the 1st page it bacame a nightmare of garbage totally off topic totally off SEO personal attacks stupid adults acting as kids......

Got nothing from the psost even though I am very intrested in the topic but after the 1st page I last skipped to the last page same flaming same junk. I don't have them time nor want to read the ego trip of the posters so I left the board not sure when I will go back, tired of the same old junk

Some may thing flaming is good and adds to the post but I would bet if it got outta hand here the membership would drop....

Flaming in some places may pay the bills but it is totally nonsense to think it would here....


 5:44 pm on Feb 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

Hey, Cabbie, don't be too sure about that!


 7:18 pm on Feb 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

I completely agree with your post and disagree with the post this is nonsense Mod or not.

Aha! You fell into my trap.

I actually think this is a very interesting thread.

I posted that comment to show how easy it is to miss interpret sarcasm in a post - especially when talking about a subjective topic like this.



 7:50 pm on Feb 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

Mr limbo you are smarter than what Brett says.
I feel like the ole mouse in the trap...Caught

Really it is a good topic as one of the main reasons I do come here is there isn't the amount of wasted post as most forums. If there is disagreements and don't get me wrong this is a good, thing most of the time they remain civil on topic and can be hashed out to a common ground...I said most of the time..

We all are human and victims of our own self serving ways...


 4:17 pm on Feb 24, 2007 (gmt 0)

On my forums, we've had a low tolerance for flaming. We've successfully cultivated a consensus that flaming is unacceptable, and more than that, a result of a moment of weakness. We have no moderators. When someone flames, other members gently chide that person, who usually goes on to apologize. It's a beautiful thing.


 12:40 am on Feb 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

My forums do have moderators and we don't tolerate flames. If the members don't reprimand a newbie for flames, a moderator will, if the moderators don't step in and reprimand, I do. I've literally said to at least one person, "Back-off or your comments will be either deleted or edited in a manner that would embarrass you. Thanks." -- followed by a smiley, of course.


 2:32 pm on Feb 26, 2007 (gmt 0)

> C. Trolls

That has to be my favorite variation to observe, when done skillfully.

In real life, the only thing I can think of that matches up is on those rare occasions where I've sarcastically said the dumbest thing I could think of... only to have someone enthusiastically agree with me.

That's usually awkward, and not funny.


 2:41 pm on Feb 26, 2007 (gmt 0)


This message was removed.
<edit:reason>No personal attacks at WebmasterWorld</edit>

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