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Flaming Freud: Analyzing Homo Incinerans 167

One writer refers to flaming as "teletextual incendiarism," the best term I've ever seen, and flamers as "homo incinerans." Conventional thinking is that flaming is the online equivalent of barbarism, but it's much more complicated than that. Flaming may be the canary in the coal mine, a barometer of how free cyberspace is or stays. It may also be a kind of virtual role-playing, the kind done more knowingly on sex sites. I've gathered here some reflections on the evolution of flaming and metaflaming, including what Freud himself might make of it if he got online. He'd almost surely think that flamers have some issues to resolve.

In most precincts on the Net, flaming -- loosely defined here as ad hominem verbal violence committed by the pecular denizens of cyberspace, and fueled by the creations and circumstances of the cyberculture they've created -- is both widely practiced and broadly condemned.

During much of what we call civilization, personal attacks on ideological opponents have been considered uncivil, a kind of social cheating that violates the rules of coherent debate and social relations. We generally don't attack other people unless we covet their land or property, are enraged by unreasonable provocation, or paid to do it. But online, people continuously attack others for less obvious reasons.

In fact, people online are frequently assaulted just for existing, one of cyberspace's unique features. Intellectuals, while they may privately backstab and mercilessly skewer one another, have always publically advocated what they call a "contempt for contempt" philosophy about personal attacks.

On the Net's threads and discussion lists, there is no such pretense. Hostility is naked and continuous, and even its most vicious practioners rarely suffer any consequences, experience regrets, or apologize to their targets.

While flaming is generally condemned by mature and civilized people, it's becoming clear over time, and as the Net enters its second generation, that that's too simple a position. However much we might or might not like it, flaming exists for particular reasons and serves particular functions, especially in the context of electric communities.

For example, flaming is a bit reminiscent of the role-playing that goes on in virtual sex sites, where people assume and experiment with different identities. The flamer can be tough and hostile online, even when he can't be in the real world, or isn't the least bit hostile face-to-face. On virtual sex sites, people experiment with different personae all the time, many of them aggressive. But they do so knowingly. Most flamers are not big on self-awareness. Many take themselves very seriously, imparting considerable virtue to their hostility.

Flaming has unintended consequences -- it has elevated e-mail to new levels of significance. Speaking only for myself, as flaming becomes more widespread and disconnected, e-mail seems to become more thoughtful, literate and civil. Denied the opportunity to speak thoughtfully in public, many people online work hard at making e-mail work even better. E-mail used to be an oddity, written in short, herky-jerky bursts. But as more people have grown up using it and become more experienced, it's gotten better. The problem is that unlike flames, few people ever get to see it. Thus e-mail isn't taken as seriously as flaming, it's evolution as studied or appreciated.

Flaming online is like jet noise near an airport, an expected backdrop, part of the digital continuum. Curiously, flaming often seems most enthusiastically embraced not by the dumbest people, but by the smartest, and perhaps the youngest. Male adolescents are the nastiest and most enthusiastic flamers, which shouldn't be all that shocking.

Flamers invariably know better, at least in real life (otherwise the homicide rate would be going up, not down), but the virtual world serves as a kind of free zone for the nervous, discontented, quarrelsome and meticulous. Invective has always provided some of the best and most inventive writing online, the nerd's literal revenge. Freud would have a field day analyzing flaming, though he would surely be roasted alive if he browsed anywhere near most mailing lists. His tortured, ponderous style of communicating would touch off a continuing roast.

People who would get their teeth knocked down their throats if they spoke so viscerally at schools or workplaces become cult heroes online, freely tossing out insults and taunts as long as there's plenty of bandwidth between them and their targets. They often see themselves as heroes and champions of free speech. Cyberspace filters out all the physical characteristics of an actual debate or confrontation -- people's size, gender, demeanor, posture, facial expressions, volume and tone of voice. This is partly because there are economic constraints on online time (thus personal patience), and a lack of immediate response from the target. Besides, almost all Net and Web communities are new, without the traditions, social protocols or inhibitions that exist off-line.

The Net is not a place for people who fear or dislike criticism. Being abused is almost noble, to some points of view. In certain scientific circles, as well as during the Enlightenment, it was considered heroic to dare to put your ideas out there -- you can't respond to criticism without suffering it first. Since at least that time, philosphers and experimenters have had to meet a rigorous test of scrutiny. That ethic continues on the Net, perhaps because programs and code that operate software really needs to work. When they don't, there's no evading it.

Simply a reality of life online, flaming has now become part of the digital social architecture, the price others pay to move around freely and express themselves openly. The Net is not a place for people who fear or dislike criticism, one of the problems CEO's and other thin-skinned types have with cyberspace.

Many people who denounce flaming see it as nothing less than a rise in thuggery, writes William B. Mallard of Rutgers University, in an essay in the collection "Internet Culture," edited by David Porter. Mallard calls flamers "homo incinerans" -- incendiary people. He recounts several rounds of flming on a mailing list devoted to psychoanalysis, of all places. His account reinforces the idea that online academic writing is particularly conducive to flaming, since adademic research is so closely associated with anxiety, wrath and vendettas and online culture only compounds the disassociation of sender and recipient.

This connection between academic temperament and online assaults might explain why tech-oriented sites are prone to metaflaming. Almost all tech and programming discussions are rife with anxiety, wrath and vendettas. And they are disproportionately peopled with students and academics and researchers.

Flaming is a difficult streak in Net culture to write about, because public discussion of flames attracts more flames. Pretty soon, all rational exploration becomes impossible -- as you can see in a flash by scrawling down below this column.

But if you buy the notion that electric communities (Net scholar Mark Stefik has written that flaming is the digital equivalent of people driving menacing outsiders away from their communities), then there has to be some natural rationale for flamers. Mother Net has provided them for the same reason Mother Nature provides mosquitoes and predators; they full some sort of digital predestination. But what, exactly?

The dark side of flaming is obvious enough: it inhibits free speech and it discourages newcomers and the techno-wary. More than any other factor, flaming keeps the Net from actually spawning open and coherent communities, since rational discussion becomes all but impossible except in closed, moderated forums.

Less apparent are the benefits of flaming, but there are some. Flamers are levelers and equalizers, obnoxious maybe, but also democratic. They are BS and hype hunters. When it comes to getting flamed, everybody online is equal. A tool of the adolescent and the young, flaming is a counterstrike against real or perceived authority figures, the very types you can't go after on the non-virtual realm. Flamers are indefatigable and enthusiastic. They generate excitement, create tension and interest around ideas and debates; they discourage punditry and top-down pompousity.

I tend to think of them, sometimes wearily, sometimes with affection, as the canaries in the coal mine, specimens in a jar that test radiatiion and other hazards. As long as flamers flame, the Net remains freer than anywhere else.

This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Flaming Freud

Comments Filter:
  • Please, don't do it - but it seems that it will just come
    -------------------------------------------- ------
  • I just see flameing as people letting out stress or just being an ass via the assumed mask of anomity(sp?)

  • You say one thing, but mean your mother?
  • I have to believe that after many years that I say what I think at the time. Too many times than I can count I have been given a negative reaction from slashdot and say what I really think. If that's flamming then so be it.
  • by RichDice ( 7079 ) on Monday October 09, 2000 @07:06AM (#720954)
    Flame Warriors Explaned []


  • So, I started reading this and thought to myself, "Self, why is this so long? Who wrote this? I bet it was Jon Katz......"


  • by deacent ( 32502 ) on Monday October 09, 2000 @07:07AM (#720956)
    I see flaming more like road rage. On the Internet, all you see is text and graphics. Users don't have to acknowledge to themselves that there are real people out there. So, they behave in ways that they wouldn't if they were in a face-to-face confrontation. I've noticed two types of flaming: the trolling that's there to get attention or a reaction and the intolerance of alternate views on the universe. Both are offensive to me and I've learned not to react to either.

  • Flaming is just like picking a fight in a bar.

    Except you don't (generally) get hurt.

    End of story.

  • It's all a bunch of hooey! It's all propaganda of that closet-liberal G.W. Bush, as any fool can plainly see. Just add up these numbers:

    1+1 = uh, can I get some help here? Jeb?

    What's that.. Uh, no it can't be, it's too soon for that! Alright, who's the naz

    *** Invocation of Godwin's Law ***

    Post Terminated.

    Chief Frog Inspector

  • by redelm ( 54142 ) on Monday October 09, 2000 @07:09AM (#720959) Homepage
    I'm afraid I respectfully disagree. I see little wrong with flaming, although I certainly won't indulge in the practice myself. Flamers reveal more about themselves than their targets.

    While everybody might lose their temper every now and again, it isn't something to be proud of, nor does it win any points. USENET and the WWW should be read with large doses of skepticism.

    I object to the term "verbal violence". That term should be reserved for credible threats of violence. Mere vitriol causes no harm other than hurt feelings. For those, I suggest growing a thicker skin, or getting some self-confidence.
  • by flatpack ( 212454 ) on Monday October 09, 2000 @07:09AM (#720960)

    I get the feeling that for once, this article comes from the heart. If anyone has received a lot of flame, it's Jon Katz and his "insightful" (in the /. sense of course) brand of libberish nonsense we all love to hate.

    Sorry Jon, but your assertion that flaming inhibits free speech is ludicrous, since flaming is in itself a form of speech, and one that people normally cannot "get away" with in real life due to the overly developed sensibilities of people with far too much emotional baggage. By removing the possibility of hysterical and/or violent responses, the net has in fact increased the freedom of speech by allowing people to say what they really mean rather than mouthing polite platitudes whilst seething inside.

    And as for flaming discouraging rational conversation, some of the best arguments I've seen has been the result of flamewars online, or indeed have been the flamewars themselves. Passionate arguments are always the best for getting to the bottom of things, why else do you think public debates have always been so popular and successful? Argument is a necessary tool of the rational mind, and a heated argument is far more likely to reveal the truth than a load of politcally correct group-speak.

    Face it, you just don't like being flamed. Either deal with it, or get over it, just stop whining about it.

  • It would be like overhearing a conversation in said bar and then arguing about it and then more people start to hear and then they comment and so on.
  • by Jerky McNaughty ( 1391 ) on Monday October 09, 2000 @07:10AM (#720962)
    I think we can all agree that Katz, more than anyone else, is qualified to write an article about flaming. 90% of Slashdot comments attached to a Katz article (or diatribe) are usually flames, justified or not.
  • that he damn well knows what it's like to be flamed. :)

    Dear my! What are those things coming out of her nose?
  • by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Monday October 09, 2000 @07:11AM (#720964)
    > The dark side of flaming is obvious enough: it inhibits free speech and it discourages
    > newcomers and the techno-wary. More than any other factor, flaming keeps the Net from actually
    > spawning open and coherent communities, since rational discussion becomes all but impossible
    > except in closed, moderated forums.

    Aren't you contradicting yourself somewhat? The last thing I want is a "community" full of people saying "PLEEZ UNSUBSCRIBE M3 FRUM DIS L1ST!".

    Flaming is as much a form of moderation as anything else, and if flaming keeps the newbies away, (e.g. flame one newbie to a helminthic crust as an example to the others), then load 'er up with napalm and let 'er rip.

    Speaking of flame, there's a fascinating thread in on the nature of communication across the language barrier, and it started with a flame. Search for "worm poop" or "worm men" and watch as a native Italian speaker (and spammer) gets his flames and death threats translated through Babelfish to English (and back again), to the amusement and delight of all.

    To quote one poster from the thread: "Any sufficiently advanced communication is indistinguishable from gibberish". And yet - any sufficiently advanced communicators are still able to understand said gibberish.

  • by cheekymonkey_68 ( 156096 ) <amcd AT webguru DOT uk DOT net> on Monday October 09, 2000 @07:12AM (#720965)
    For those who surf the newgroups, this may be of may just save your mailbox!

    The Internet, just like the real world, has its share of rude people. While there isn't much one can do about it, it would be silly to avoid using the Internet simply for fear that someone might insult you in public one day. Sooner or later, it will happen, and the best you can do is to be prepared for this. When it does happen, the only thing you absolutely must not do is whack the "reply" button and send off a stream of insults at your offender - or if you absolutely must, at least make sure that you do so in private. All you would achieve with a stream of insults is what is called a "flame war" in network jargon - dozens of people casting insults at each other, and a very swollen mailbox. Insulting someone on a public list is very much like punching someone in the face in a crowded bar near closing time; don't do it unless you want to get into a fight that could be painful for everyone.

    Now, of course, you have been insulted and some factually incorrect statements may have been made about you, or your words may have been twisted around to make them sound like you meant exactly the opposite of what you said. A public reply may be appropriate, in much the same way that one would write to the editor of a newspaper and request the publication of a formal reply to "straighten out the facts". The important thing is to avoid content-free messages where no misinformation is corrected, no point is made and all that is ever exchanged is insults.

    But before you do that, you will want to consider why these people have been rude to you. First of all, make sure the poster did intend to be rude. The Internet connects people from over 50 countries, and many of them are not native English speakers. They may have translated an idiomatic expression literally, and insulted you without meaning to. Similarly, native English speakers may have used a correct idiomatic expression which, when translated literally, sounds very mean in your language.

    The next thing to consider is where the poster comes from. No matter what your personal opinion on the question may be, there are cultures with a very different definition of what is or is not socially acceptable, and in particular there are cultures where personal attacks are no big deal. While you may think that they should not do anything that hurts your feelings, you probably don't want to get into a cultural flame war, because you are probably hurting other people's feelings as well on a regular basis. For instance, do you always address people by their full name and title, or do you just say "As Peter said yesterday..."? In some countries, it is a grave insult to call people by their first name if you don't know them personally, while in others using the full title can sound sarcastic. There are dozens of similar examples, and the only way to successful cross-cultural communication is to tolerate other people's cultural habits in return for their tolerance of yours.

    Another point to consider is that, sometimes, people are having meaningful discussions in a tone that appears inappropriate to you, but that may seem perfectly normal to them. As long as their messages contain useful information, there is no point in trying to police the list, both because it is the list owner's job, not yours, and because adults are unlikely to change their behavior in any significant way, especially if the people complaining are new to the list. If you want the list owners to take action, it is better to write to them directly, so that you do not end up being labelled as "one of the people running the flame war". If you just want to publicly express your indignation, it is best to type the message and pause, just before sending it, to consider whether you are doing this in the general interest or for your personal, selfish satisfaction. Most mail programs let you cancel a message.

    Lastly, if you are new to the Internet please take the time to look through existing resources on netiquette (the rules of etiquette governing on-line communication).

    Note that among Internet users, a kind of "shorthand" exists which may be confusing at first. One example of this is the term "IMHO", which means "in my humble/honest opinion".
    You may also encounter symbols called "emoticons", which are used to help define the emotions of the poster while he is writing.
  • by TheReverand ( 95620 ) on Monday October 09, 2000 @07:12AM (#720966) Homepage
    Hostility is naked...

    If you think there is one iota of hostility in my nakedness, you got another thing coming.

  • that was it.
    --------------------------------------------- -----
  • You've been caught lurking in the 'secret' sids John ! And then tried to intellectualise it. Bah, you would have got away with it if it wasn't for those pesky kids !
  • Is it just me or has /. become a slightly better-behaved place since Rob's IRC rants over the last week? It seems like the spam, trolls, flame etc. has reduced by a load.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    According to a UN survey, anyway. More findings:

    Americans flame using ungrammatical sentences and poor spelling. They typically pepper their "flames" with scatalogical references that are simultaneously no sequiturs and anatomically impossible. I wont go so far as to label them morons but, you know, if the shoe fits, etc, etc. Brits flame the best because they have a lot of repressed bitterness over being poofters. For example, teletextual incendiarism is almost certainly of Brit origin.
  • by deacent ( 32502 ) on Monday October 09, 2000 @07:14AM (#720971)
    Saying what you think, even if it's negative, doesn't have to fall into the category of flaming. It's an issue of etiquette and substance. I see flaming as venting without contributing any food for thought in an obnoxious manner. You can disagree and express negative emotions without resorting to incindiary language.

  • This article must have taken all of a minute
    to write. As for invoking Freud, he must be
    turning in his grave, being associated with
    such a thinly-argued piece of drivel.

  • They are BS and hype hunters.

    OK, we now have an explanation for the normal reaction to a Katz article.

  • Good for you. I've seen some real beauts on USENET, something along the lines of Longest Topic, which had been going for months when I last saw it crossposted all over. Rather a type of evolution and mutation in the way it would get crossposted into a new newsgroup and pick up some fresh blood, adding fuel to one of the more dominant threads and keeping it going until the next cross post.

    Chief Frog Inspector
  • Or, in other words, it's the online equivalent of barbarianism with all of the bravery afforded by being out of range. (Apologies to Roger Waters).
  • Ohhh, no. The prevalance of flaming on the 'net isn't an indication of the rise of anything. There are flamers wherever, and to the same extent, content can be divorced from consequence.

    Bathroom grafitti. Prank phone calls. Letters to the editor under ficticious names. Anonymous hate (surface) mail. Big-mouthed media celebrities who'll never meet the people they slander.

    All the 'net has done is lift up the rock and show you the bugs that were already there.

  • I'll say it again. No accountability, no responsibility. If you're anonymous, you can flame away, because you don't have to look at the person you're flaming in the eyes. If you can't see the other person, it's much harder to care about their feelings.

    Also, flaming is like playing violent video games. It's to take out aggression, it's to have fun. It shouldn't be taken seriously. If you're being bothered by flaming, take steps to escape the fire, or fight fire with fire.

    Mother Net? I think net flamers spawn because of immaturity, not because they serve a purpose. It's possible to disagree with someone in a serious conversation without lambasting his/her very being. I think flamers do as much to defend free speech as people who play violent video games do. What does that mean? I have no idea.
    Lord Omlette
    ICQ# 77863057
  • So what? Long == bad? Has our culture become so impatient that people can't take the time to read through something that would barely fill a single printed page?

    Regardless of whether you like Katz or not, you have to respect him for bringing something more substantial to the table that "Hey, they are gonna release a new version of Beowulf" or "Hey, the RIAA really sucks, huh?"

    For once I would like to see a Katz article that actually had a discussion of the article following it, not a million "Jon Katz sucks" posts. (yes, I know I am just contributing to the "JK sucks" line noise with this post, but I had to get it off my chest)

  • Possibly trolling for flames? ;-)

    This just happened!
    Slow down cowboy!

    Slashdot requires you to wait 1 minute between each submission of / in order to allow everyone to have a fair chance to post.

    It's been 1 minute since your last submission!

    What is a minute?

    Rob: Well, that depends upon what your definition of 'is' is.

    Chief Frog Inspector
  • by icqqm ( 132707 ) on Monday October 09, 2000 @07:22AM (#720980) Homepage Journal
    Well it seems to me some fairly obvious points are missing here. First of all, flames are all about egos. It starts when someone's ego is tarnished by another's, it continues because of a virtual pissing contest where each side wants to come out being right, and it doesn't end because neither side wants to swallow his/her pride.

    Secondly, flamers don't consider themselves such. Despite making comments about a particular person as opposed to this issue, when confronted with any specific post, they claim they're not the one that's flaming. The other side "started it with [x] post". It is a lot like road rage in that people feel the need to put down others in order to maintain their sense of superiority.

    It has nothing to do with free speech any more than spamming does, and it isn't any more necessary than murder is.

  • Also, flamers tend to use the word "obvious" a lot.

    It's obvious that I'm right about this and the previous post has to be moderateed up.

  • >> Pretty soon, all rational exploration becomes impossible -- as you can see in a flash by scrawling down below this column.

    Doesn't it bug you to know Jon Katz predicted your immediate destiny?

    I watch the sea.
    I saw it on TV.

  • For this and all my other problems, I Blame Canada.

    Chief Frog Inspector
  • Seriously, anyone have a genus/species name for trolls?
  • Do I agree with the content of the article, No, but then I could only read half of it before I became tired of it. Do I like flamers, No, but that is what filters are for!
    If I don't like what you have to say, I ignore you. As far as I am concerned, an individual has the right to behave and say however/whatever they want to. That is, as long as they do not voilate another individual's rights doing so.
    So, as flaming does not violate anothers rights, flame away! After all, the only thing that it does to me is makes my filter list longer!
  • I object to the term "verbal violence". That term should be reserved for credible threats of violence. Mere vitriol causes no harm other than hurt feelings. For those, I suggest growing a thicker skin, or getting some self-confidence.

    I certainly wouldn't say it causes no harm. If nothing else, it's a waste of bandwidth and occasionally clutters my searches for useful posts. I've once had an occasion to observe a flame-war that ended because it looked like one of the parties was going to physically search out another participant and do physical harm to him. But, yes, "verbal violence" is a bit too dramatic for my tastes and people do need to understand that the price of free speech is that you risk being offended. I just wish some people would think a little before they posted.


  • also, please be sure to flame me for not closing the italics tag.

    I watch the sea.
    I saw it on TV.

  • I think that few people are qualified to judge the merits of many of the John Katz articles namely because they don't have the proper background to allow for editing and writing experience. In fact most people don't even read the essays at all and then just flame anyway. That just shows ignorance.
  • I think it's ignorant to flame something for its length, depth or breadth..if it's something you cannot tackle then please decline from any response at all; simply return to your pile of blocks.

    then again, according to Katz, you are promoting democracy which must mean that I'm....hey!
  • Being someone who generated 12,000 hits in 36 hours [] by flaming Ryan Meader of MOSR, I can say a 'detailed analysis' of flaming is bullshit. Flaming is little more than being juvenile again. I like to flame someone in good fun every now and then, but I liken it to squirting someone with a water gun. Annoying enough to get thier attention, but not enough to go to jail for.
  • Dammit man! Can't you see he's baited you!

    Seriously, I agree on some points, but it's like walking barefoot across a kitchen floor littered with broken glass to get to a beer in the fridge. In the end, it's rewarding, but you wish you didn't have to go through the pain to get there.

    Chief Frog Inspector
  • Why are these AC flamers so unwilling to put their names to their flames?

    Embarrassment? Hubris? Unhealthy self-opinion? I suspect the latter.

  • right, you are a hack and you rock and all - but what is that last part? sorry, I got the "I am assphace and I will haxor your..." and then you trailled off. was that a niner in there?
    ------------------------------------------ --------
  • katz writes about something he really knows about.... getting flamed.

    -Brian Peace
  • My take on flaming is much simpler than Jon's. I think people who flame realize there's no real risk of retaliation, so they sling all the mud they can muster at their target. If flamers were forced to repeat their words face to face with their target, there'd be a lot less "gasoline" in their comments.

    For my own part, I agree with Jon in that flamers are an indicator, but I disagree with what's being indicated. For me it's a filtering mechanism; once the "temperature" of the post reaches a certain point, I just ignore it. It's my bozo filter.

    I have reservations as to Sigmund Freud having cogent observations on flaming. It's my impression that Freud is being abandoned by modern psychiatry because his theories are flawed. According to one skeptic I read, Freud's theories may one day be regarded like astrology and alchemy: precursors to valid science, but no longer useful.

  • by Angst Badger ( 8636 ) on Monday October 09, 2000 @07:35AM (#720997)
    Before the Internet was generally accessible, there was the BBS. There was flaming on BBSes -- some more than others -- but generally less than is seen on the net today. BBSes had regulars, and the normal pressures of having to coexist with the same people on a regular basis served to temper excesses. This was less the case on Fidonet, still less the case on Usenet, and it applies not at all to web-based forums like this.

    The primary culprit here is HTTP. With a BBS, you had to establish a connection and log into a system on which you had established an account. This may not seem like much, but it was part of the "sense of place" that BBS veterans often lament missing on today's net. With /. or any of a hundred other web forums, you can just click your way in and just as easily click your way out. The BBS was an investment; the web is just screwing around, not much more interactive or engaging than channel surfing.

    Flaming on BBSes took some real energy because it generally went on at some length and in any given local calling area there were only so many places you could make an ass of yourself before you ran out of welcomes. Flaming on the web is more like a drive-by shooting. Any AC can fire off a shot not even notice the response. Unfortunately, since Microsoft killed browser development and since HTTP appears to be the VT100 of the next decade, this isn't likely to change.


  • That's my CAT's name!
    ------------------------------------------------ --
  • I couldn't agree more. This really does seem to be the day of days for Slashdot stories that get "flamed" though. A story about flaming, right after that useless thread on distributed memory architecture supercomputers.(I refuse to say the words at this point.) Better luck later on I guess.
  • Obviously Jon has put a lot of thought into his article, it's possible he's trolling for responses to see if he's overlooked some angle. Smells a little like research.

    My take on flaming/flamebating: It's the singlar manifestation of the 'I' in a crowd of anonymous strangers. Only the most fearless, or possibly enebriated, would attempt this in public and probably for something they hold strong conviticions concerning.

    Chief Frog Inspector
  • by streetlawyer ( 169828 ) on Monday October 09, 2000 @07:40AM (#721001) Homepage
    Jon wrote: Intellectuals, while they may privately backstab and mercilessly skewer one another, have always publically advocated what they call a "contempt for contempt" philosophy about personal attacks.

    They most certainly don't! From Socrates to Plato to Dr Johnson, to Schopenhauer, to Winston Chuurchill, Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, Lord Byron, all of them, there's a huge tradition of invective and personal abuse among intellectuals. This "contempt for contempt" is a mark of pseudo-intellectuals; people who think they're acting with incredible maturity and cleverness when they're actually just too dull to come up with a good answer.

  • Kind of hard to imaging anything being moderated "flamebait" or "Off Topic" in a story about flaming, eh?

    ************************************************** *****

    PBS Documentary on the 30 year War on Drugs tonight! 2 part special [], tonight and tomorrow night.

    Seems like this affects as many geek's lives as, say, LEGO robots, or Start Wars trailers....

    I wonder if they'll mention that one of the candidates for president [] wants to end it.

    Couple of video clips here [] and here [].nd it.

  • Well, to add my flame to the fire.

    Jon Katz on flaming? Is this what we call 'self-realization'? Or does he actually believe that he has just stated something truly profound and enlightening for the stupid masses?

    Yeah, that's probably it. Hard to believe that Katz would actually wake up to his own stupidity.
  • In other words (and with apologies to Freud): "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." -- WhiskeyJack PS> Got a light?
  • Actually, this is an interesting piece of email - it illustrates what I would consider the opposite side of the "flame" coin: trolling. Some people are (IMO) so desperate for attention that when they cannot think of something appropriately witty to say, they say something really stupid but inclined to draw the flames as a light draws moths. The above would be an example, another would be the "guns=murder" thread on It's entirely self-justifying, floating along on the hot air of the conversation, but communicating actually NOTHING. Why do people do this? It's tantamount to (to use the barfight metaphor from above) walking into a biker bar and shouting that they're all assholes. You're begging to be intellectually creamed, but since it's cyberspace then you *really* don't get hurt. So what's the value? As I mention above, IMO it's person who's so socially needy that they just like the idea of "starting" the conversation, no matter how inane or pointless - much like those idiots that race to get the "first post!" in the comments (see, now that would be a Troll). Either they're socially needy, or so incredibly stupid that they actually think that stepping in front of 000's of USENET gamers and spouting some cliche ideas will ACTUALLY convince anyone? (Or, they don't care that they won't convince anyone, but get some wierd validation out of publicly making the statement.) Anyway, there's a few reasons, but I'm fascinated by the counter-flamer response of trolling.
  • Journalism requires thought. Thought requires language to be decisive. Decisive language is much better to read than a Microsoft textbook. There is nothing wrong with using "big words". Fact: most peoples' vocabulary ceases to grow past age twenty-five. For those that refuse to use the "big words", I venture to say that growth ends somewhere around fifteen. your language will define your perspective on the world. Use it well and it will serve you well. Choose to use only fragments of your language and you will find yourself in a personal deficit for doing so. So please, feel free to flame me also.
  • by LauraLolly ( 229637 ) on Monday October 09, 2000 @07:48AM (#721007)

    While I don't agree with Katz, the idea that Passionate arguments are always the best for getting to the bottom of things, why else do you think public debates have always been so popular and successful? is a fallacy.
    Passion=informed(look at debates on abortion with misinformation on both sides.)
    popular=worthwhile (WWF Smackdown)

    While flamewars are able to show the emotions, often, they do not cover the issues in both an informed and an informative way.

    DUMFSK, you say its! instead of
    Mr. Katz: You don't need an apostrophe when you write " Thus e-mail isn't taken as seriously as flaming, it's evolution as studied or appreciated. " Mr. Katz, please learn the difference between the possesive its, and the contraction it's.

    Flaming can discourage free speech, as even the not-so timid are tired of flamers tracking them down and spewing righteous nonsense.

    Yes, I have been informed and amused by flamewars. No, I don't consider them the bastion of freedom - just an illustration of it.

  • by brickbat ( 64506 ) on Monday October 09, 2000 @07:49AM (#721008) Homepage Journal
    And not only has it been lost, but its popular definition has changed to the point where it has little meaning.

    Consider my first experience online: AOL. That, by itself, should invite a platoon of flamethrowers to point in my direction. But in 1995, at least, it was possible to find signs of intelligent life on the service, other lusers who were my age or at least acted like it. This was due in large part to having to pay by the hour; most kids got limited access, if any, and had to make the most of it, which left little time for pointless posturing on the message boards (which were heavily moderated anyway). It was then that I discovered Usenet, which has long been treated like Outer Mongolia by AOL, but was the source of some truly inspired writing, arguments, and all-out war. I spent much of my 20 hours a month simply downloading articles from Usenet.

    That changed in '96, when AOL moved to unlimited-access. Now parents had a new babysitter, developmentally-stunted college dropouts had a new latrine to piss in, and the collective IQ of the service plummeted. I bailed the very next month for an independent ISP and haven't looked back.

    And true flaming--which, despite Katz' assertions, usually attacked the message, not the messenger--has suffered badly as the Internet moves into the mainstream. "I CAUGHT LUXERx AND HIS MOTHER IN A HOT WET 69!!!1!!1!!!" is not a flame. It's the immature bleating of lonely teens who have just figured out how to use a newsreader to crosspost to half the groups in alt.* on Usenet. Real flames are written by people who value subtlety, excellent grammar and precise logic. Often their subjects don't know they are being roasted, even while everyone else in the group is stifling a laugh.

    That was flaming then. Now it's just noise, which I can pick up from any high-school student lounge. The freedom and accessibility of the 'net are its blessings--and also its curses, and eventual downfall.
  • Actually in this case I don't think it's so bad. JK has found a topic in which even those who hate him cannot avoid discussing the topic at hand; all flames against JK simply start other threads to discuss the mentality behind such a post. JK I applaud you for an interesting topic which flamers and non alike can discuss and flame.
  • I thought it would be a fun idea to flame the author, but then I realised lots of other people would be doing it anyway, so it wouldn't be original unless I got first post :-)

  • Got to the 3rd paragraph and thought. This is a bit long for /.. Bet it's a Katz.

  • In society, we have to act nice, play nice, etc. After all, there are consequences to what we say and do.

    In Cyberspace, the consequences are more obscure. And it is somewhat easier to come up with a new persona.

    The end result is that the social veneer is much thinner, and we tend to see the core of the person more directly, since they have a sense of safety in the appearance of being anonymous.

    - - - - - - - -
    "Never apply a Star Trek solution to a Babylon 5 problem."

  • These guys [] say soul-destroying stuff like about Roberta Williams and cancer and what not. Serious? I doubt it. I think they are very self-aware people who flame for entertainment.

    Btw, this is the best Jon Katz article I've seen. I've been flaming your posts for a long time as AC, Jon- too bad when I get my nick I have to post something positive! Wait, that makes me look like a pussy: dear Jon, fuk u.

  • > Most mail programs let you cancel a message.


    Me: *Cancel*
    EmailApp v4.2: "I'm sorry, that option is not available."
    M: "Um..." *Cancel*
    E: "I believe I just informed you that you cannot do that. This message will now be sent. Please enter an address in the To: field."
    M: "WTF?" [moves mouse towards window close button]
    E: "Sorry, no dice. I have now taken control of your cursor. Enter an email address now!"
    M: "Aah!" [reaches for power cord]
  • Yes, 'big words' have their place, and I use them when I'm writing a report or whatever, but I don't expect them on a site like this. Everything has its place; if the author wrote all of Slashdot's articles, Slashdot would never have succeeded, because you might as well read National Geographic, and at least in National Geographic the authors have some idea what they are talking about.
  • And the bold text above the article saying

    'Posted by JonKatz'

    didn't spell it out?

    Hmm.. okay.

  • My recollection from when I first started reading USENET (1988 or so), was that the people who got flamed either didn't bother to read up on a newsgroup before posting, posted something they couldn't back up, or refused to take responsibility for what they said. Sort of a "write-only" concept. Newsgroups were places where anyone could just speak with (almost) no way to stop them.

    For a brief time, believe it or not, it was customary for arguments to be defered to net.flame (later alt.flame) and the interested parties would actually comply! One interesting result of that was that alt.flame developed its own culture with its own celebs who definitely ripped each other apart, but in many cases there was also an underlying level of respect for each other's wit and imagination.

    Of course over time all things like this fade away, and the signal to noise of "useful" flameage eventually became low enough that I stopped interacting on USENET at all. I find it odd that Jon is only now getting around to flames as a topic, since it's been around the net for well over 10 years.

  • Sadly, some folk, including the moderator who flamebaited and Styopa read the first couple lines and judged the piece, out of context.

    My original, though perhaps to tangential, purpose and execution was to draw attention to Godwin's Law [], which I leave to the reader to follow the link. Katz somehow saw fit to exclude this useful watermark, let alone how the individual should employ it with all objectivity.

    Chief Frog Inspector
  • On the other hand there are those of us (myself included) that have written for most of our lives and cannot believe that someone with such a load of hot air and a total lack of creativity can actually have gotten a job doing this sort of writing.

    Personally, Jon's insistance on the Internet either a. being the end of everything we know, or b. being the beginning of a new version of everything we know, or c. being the be-all, end-all proof of everything every dreamt of in human existance, makes me absolutely sick. And the concepts that he tries to promote (while totally twisting original thoughts into 'background' for his arguments) are nothing short of pure RAH! RAH! cheerleading fanaticism.

    While this article is one of the few that at least tries to cover an interesting topic, by the second paragraph you are bored stiff with the writing style (I'm right, you must agree, I'm right, you must agree, the greatest minds throughout history would agree with me, I'm right you must agree.). By the time you finish reading the above, you should, by all rights, be asleep or comatose. Luckily, I've had my share of editing jobs, and have managed to develop a tollerance for sleep-inducing crap.

    Jon Katz gets flamed because he DESERVES it! Just because some of the people flaming him don't 'know the ropes' of writing doesn't mean they don't have a right to complaign. If someone had you watch a bad movie, would you say you have no right to complaign about the movie if you don't know all the ins and outs of the movie making process? No, I didn't think so.

    And that, dear sir, is what I like to call, intellectualised flamebait.
  • Jesus. It looks like my spelling could have used a little work.

    Good thing I didn't have to edit my own post there. Otherwise I wouldn't have gotten it posted this year!
  • Flaming seems to be a way of defending/establishing a person's psychic-verbal territory. Primates will repel invaders with physical attacks and by throwing feces at invaders. I believe flames and other ad hominem attacks are the verbal equivalents of throwing feces.

    Just a thought.

  • Merde!

    So what's the big deal about it? Is this whole damn shit worth writing an article and worth a post on /.?

    Is Katz running out of ideas for articles? Generally, I find his articles to be quite decent, although he got "flamed" a lot. But hey, writing a whole article on this? Is Katz trying to prove or show something?

  • It says

    "I am assface and I will haxor your grits."

    Boring stuff.
  • Look, scriptkiddies, I've been on the Net since 1978 (yes, I remember when 300 baud was fast and 110 baud was still common, and when 1200 baud came out it was sweet nectar from the Godz). And, really, there has always been flaming.

    Jon's just trying to explain to himself why we flame him. It's simple - he can't stop pontificating on subjects he knows little or nothing about, and does it in a way that aggravates those of us who understand how to write in a truly digital age.

    Writing for a magazine is dead wood. Writing for a totally electronic method is digital - brevity is the soul of wit, one should not write about what one does not know.

    That aside, the flame wars today are like little sparklers going off in the night compared to the flamefests we had in the old days. Then, it was real flames, flames as tall as buildings, flames that destroyed entire computing departments (which were really subsections of math departments back then), flames that caused people to take your decks (of punched cards) and drop them accidentally.

    Now, they'll probably just mess with your bank account or something tame like that.

  • to (-1, Flamebait).

    Oh wait, you can't moderate articles like you can in Kuro5hin [], can you?

    Never mind. Just moderate this comment then.

  • I mean, you're reading that post on Slashdot, and it's really interresting. You make an insigthfull comment on it (which gets ignored by the moderators, and the other one below which is funny gets rated 5, but that's another topic, and if I don't stop now, I might get "flamebaitted"), and are proud of what you had to say. It seems that of all the posts there are on this subject, you have brought a new light to it, something that people didn't see the first time around when they posted their comment. You come back a few hours later wondering if someone replied to what you wrote, to read : "haha sux0rz" or, "You s***, 'X' company are f****** losers and you are a complete retard". I just hate that. Flamebait should not not be tolerated, and free speech has it's limits. If something is irrelevant, don't publish it, even tough it might be funny. I know censorship isn't what most slashdotters like, but Slashdot might need a little more of that.
  • That's what Katz does best. He will completely and totally misunderstand one of the great thinkers (arguable in Freud's case) and try to say how that backs up his position. Although he really didn't go too far out on this one. Freud would probably enjoy looking at 'flamewars' on the Internet.

    But how many people would get sick of being told they want to sleep with their mother and suck their father's willy? I think Freud would be just as likely to become a flamer as he would be to study flamers. And he'd probably be a darned good one too. Not too many people are that hung up on the mother/son relationship and sexual encounters therein. That'd be some good flaming.

    I'm just waiting for the day that Katz decides to quote some ancient saying ascribed to Socrates and uses that to prove that 'Socrates predicted the Internet!' Then maybe he'll finally get laughed out of here for a while. Maybe.
  • The normal social mechanism that prevents this sort of thing from happening in the meat world- identity leading to accountability- usually does not exist in the electronic world.

    Personally, I despise anonymity, and dislike pseudonimity. Although there are cases where these are desirable, they are usually counterproductive in a forum where sensitive personal issues are not being discussed.

    Pseudonimity doesn't really solve the problem, because (1) pseudonyms are usually free, and one can obtain a new one at will and (2) pseudonyms are rarely tied to a strongly identifying piece of information like a non-web email address.
  • Does this mean we are all engaging in some kind of freudian-youwannadoyourmomma-twisted-virtual-sex-p lay? Ewwhhh gross. Ill never feel the same way about /. again... Ewwhhhh double gross.
  • I referee soccer matches, and I've seen broadly similar behavior in games involving teenaged males. That suggests flaming is related to dominance conflicts.
  • A significant difference between /. and Fidonet, USENET news, etc. is that the forum keeps rolling over. In static post forums where threads build for days or weeks on end, threads and topics get distorted or drift to the favorite topics of the combatants. Hard to get a good flamewar going with an ever changing battleground, as /. has. See you in the next topic, and we'll continue this argument...

    Chief Frog Inspector
  • Several years ago my sister got online, and in one of her early emails to me she started in with the Clinton-hating routine. She is (or was) a big Limbaugh fan, like a few other members of my family. Like I explained to her, I flamed her for it because in writing I can say all the things I can't say at the dinner table.

    Here's an sample of the flame I sent her:

    ... I think playing partisan politics as if it means anything more than sports is extremely naive. It's amusing, however, that many people who identify themselves as right-wing generally support their home team in committing acts of murder, violence and war, but don't support helping local communities, small business, education, the poor, the sick, the environment (both natural and man-made)... and then call themselves good Christians, typically justifying their own predetermined prejudices by pulling obscure references from a dubious religious document out of context. It's especially fun when they then conveniently ignore whatever parts of the same document contradict their bizarre opinions. Irony is fun. The left-wing team is nowhere near as entertaining... but just as irritating and irrelevant.

    Pretty harsh for a close family member. Here's part of the justification for it I sent her:


    If I hear extremist rhetoric in face-to-face contact, I'll shrug my shoulders and leave the scene. No point in wasting my time debating. Debates of this nature are usually pointless, because typically neither party is actually listening and critically analyzing what the other party is saying; more often, the listener is busy formulating their next attack or emotionally looking to defend their own ego or fragile belief system.

    But usually, the average advocate of any extremist viewpoint is not capable of holding an interesting debate because they have not invested the time to research and analyze their subjects, instead merely taking at face value whatever data is foisted at them by whatever propoganda outlet already suits their emotionally-charged opinions. They are rarely interested in meaningful discussion, but rather merely looking for an outlet to regurgitate the same venom they've consumed. I find this annoying.

    I can write a decent piece. I can write better than I can speak. And as opposed to spoken discussions, the written debate carries a lot more weight... there's more time for careful deliberation, fact-checking, references, etc. There is also a lack of inhibition. I'll write things that I wouldn't say, because there is a lack of repercussions -- there's no screaming or crying or hitting or even icy glares. Even a "fuck you, you're an asshole" doesn't carry the same emotional weight in writing that it does in the real world.

    So email and the internet is like a blank check for me, a license to say what I really want to say. When the subject of Rush Limbaugh comes up at Christmas dinner, what I'd love to say is something like: "Rush Limbaugh is the most disgusting, degenerate, asinine, moronic pile of shit that human genetics has ever conspired to assemble, and his little wanker army of Dittoheads is the sorryest assemblage of ignorant twits, racist and sexist scumbags, general assholes and obnoxiously stupid fuckheads this country has ever seen. He is probably one of the most defective human beings on the planet at this point in time, and it's hard for me to believe there's anyone who isn't at least half-retarded who actually listens to him."

    Yeah, that's what I'd like to say, but I won't, because a) what's the point, b) I'm not Johnny-on-the-spot with that kind of verbal rant, and c) it'd just ruin Christmas dinner. But I think it's only fair that if I have to listen to your wrongheaded opinions then you should have to listen to my wrongheaded opinions, and this is my forum of choice. If I'm rude about it it may just be that I'm on a roll, that I feel strongly about the subject, that I'm not intending to be rude and it's accidental, and/or that I just happen to think of a clever turn of an insulting phrase. Whatever the case, you should be aware that I'll feel free to speak my mind in writing - the whole truth as I see it and nothing but the truth. If you're comfortable with that, great, if not, it's probably best if we just call a truce right now and not bring up politics or religion in email.


    Strangely enough, politics and religion have not only not come up in email ever since, they seem to have been banished from the dinner table, too. Yeah, I'm a dick, but it worked out pretty darn well for me.

  • I find it fascinating that someone would actually think that Jon's long winded, poorly written "expose" on flaming is worth reading. A good writer can say with one sentence what takes a bad writer to do in a book. Long != Good. Ususally, Long==Long-winded diatribe. Now this isn't always the case. Hegel had a habit of being long-winded, but in his genius, he was justified in doing so. Then you come upon a writer like Noth, whose exactness and brievity inspired students and scholars alike, which is what I'm talking about.

    Jon Katz is not Hegel, nor Noth. Jon Katz is not NYTimes material. Jon Katz would be lucky to get a job at our local newspaper.

    This crap reads like it was written in one sitting. Just as I am doing now, but I'm not writing FOR a profit based website. This craps looks like he NEVER had a thesis, just an idea and set of ramblings.

    It is of quality only Jon Katz could achieve.

  • I recently had my attention brought to How should I react to crackpot messages? [] which provides a pretty sound discussion of the issue of the "crackpot" side of this...

    The essence of it is that there are people that have vigorously strong positions on some peculiar issues and that there is little point to trying to debate the issues even if you think you have a rational position and can debate rationally.

    There are enough people who have strongly irrational positions, whether due to mental instability (suggested in the essay, and likely, in my view, for "crackpot" theories) or (I would add) due to having strong emotional feelings surrounding the issue, and likely to be true for situations such as the Abortion debate, matters in the Middle East, and anything relating to Nazi Germany.

    In effect, this provides a corollary to Godwin's Law that topics involving large numbers of deaths and/or outright wars evoke such strong emotion that many find it hard to detach themselves from the issue so as to discuss the issue rationally.

    And if the matter is "insane" to begin with (e.g. - as with most "conspiracy theories"), there is no "rational" side to start with...

  • Well, I personally find that there is something inherently wrong with flaming, but then again, I tend to segregate it all into the following archetypes ($5 words are fun!)

    1) Friends joking around

    We've all done it - groups of nerds (usually teenagers, and more than often led by a girl) go and find something to make fun of, then put their heads together to find some brutish commentary that will make the person mad, and thus give them a good laugh. Is this bad? Probably - it depends on how far they go. It's the cyber equivalent of a group of people picking on the geek in high school. It happens.

    2) People without any respect

    You can't please everybody, and sometimes the ones you can't please blame YOU for it. More importantly, they place enough blame on you to let you know about it, thinking that you might actually lower yourself to repair the problem.

    3) People who have had bad days

    Just like in real life, they've got to spoil it for the rest of us.

    4) People who are on an adrenaline high or are frustrated due to some environmental phenomena.

    'Moody' describes these people well. They're the ones that go off at the drop of a hat. I remember being like this while trying to install a new video card once (Windows was trying to be 'helpful' and activate the motherboard one...).

    Also, when a person is being flamed, they tend to get like this. It's a chain reaction, I've noticed.

    5) People who have to be right

    Guilty! Heh - ever have someone say something that you know is wrong and then you tried to correct them, only to start a war of correctness? Annoying, isn't it? I just don't understand why they all just wouldn't listen to me :)

    Anyway, these are all I can think of at the moment - anyone else think of any?

  • by brandtpfundak ( 234399 ) on Monday October 09, 2000 @08:38AM (#721046)
    You bring up some excellent rules for how people should conduct themselves, but I think the reason that a lot of people don't participate in a civilized discourse on the net is because there really is no online rhetoric that governs the discourse of the online world.

    Think about it--while it is obvious that online communication differs from other forms of interpersonal commuication, has anyone really gone through and catalogued what makes online discourse so different from discourse between two people who are physically approximate to one another? Take a debate for example. Debates often take the same form as a discussion/flamewar on then net, with the different participants taking points and counterpoints, often with the hopeful goal of dialectical synthesis. But just as it is during a debate, often the two viewpoints are so far apart that dialectical synthesis is impossible to achieve. However, unlike a debate, the online discourse often degenerates into a series of ad hominem attacks and offtopic gibberish designed to push people's buttons. Why? Simple--because in an online discussion there is no accountability.

    Think about last week's debates. Had GWB turned on Al Gore at one point and called him a "major-league asshole" when he couldn't rebut one of Gore's points with a factual response he would have dropped in the polls immediately. He would have been accountable for the fact that instead of answering a valid point, he had launched into an obvious ad hominem attack.

    With online discourse there is no accountability. People use their supposed anonymity to say things that they would never have the balls to say in a public, physically approximate forum. They are unwilling to break the rules of verbal rhetoric that has existed since the beginnings of civilization because a.) it makes them look like an asshole to transgress the boundaries of verbal rhetoric and b.) it will usually lead to their getting their asses kicked. The moment that the discourse moves online though, these rules go out the window. There is no such thing as an online rhetoric and the supposed anonymity makes some people think that they have carte blanche to say whatever they want--often times the most ill thought and ignorant things.

    The fact that there is no such thing as an online rhetoric and by extension a code of conduct is a real shame. When I used to teach English composition at BGSU, I forbade the Internet as a source for my students papers. Was it because the Internet isn't a good source? Of course not--the Internet can be a powerful research tool if used correctly. Unfortunately, my students were too narrow minded and ill trained in written rhetoric to realize that the Internet has no rhetoric at all.

    Just my 2 cents.

  • Eudora have a new browser with a moodwatch feature [] that uses an amusing chilli rating (three chillis for flaming hot :-)

    It claims to spot potentially flame-worthy mails before they get sent... or arriving. It doesn't even need to have any rude words in.

    Personally, I prefer screaming matches over the phone. At least they're instantaneous, and you can't mess up the tone of voice thing.


    We may be human, but we're still animals.
  • Well, I agree with the title of your post, flatpack, but I also find myself in the rare position of being in partial agreement with one of Jon's points:

    Flaming does inhibit free speech - at least that's it's intent - inasmuch as the speech that the flamer seeks to inhibit is inane, is in violation of protocol, or is otherwise undesireable in the specific forum in which the flamer and flamee encounter one another. Where I myself have flamed, this has been the intent, and the flames were in response to persons who violated the simple and easy to follow rules of certain alt hierarchy usenet forums: trim your quotes, don't post binaries or html, and read the faq before posting, dammit. The flames are more public notice or "open letter" than directed hostility.

    Equally as often, however, there is no inhibition intended or exercised. It's just a simple matter of two personalities conflicting in an environment where one can only express oneself with words. Flaming is an inevitable emergence from such a situation, and will never be eliminated. In other words, it's no different from a schoolyard fight. I saw this kind of flame war most often in my BBS days, and actually, most of us considered them entertainment. Even the participants.

    Anyone who is on the receiving end of a flame that sees more into it than that is blowing it way out of proportion. Especially if the flamee is participating in a usenet forum, or publishes half-baked rubbish in online magazines.

  • Okay, that's really asking for it, I know :)

    Seriously, though. I've also never written what I would consider a "flame." I've written some pretty darn sarcastic responses, but they always had a point; it was never just "you're too stupid to live."

    I guess that doesn't really mean anything; you can't really say that something isn't a problem just because you're not participating in it. But the funny thing is, I've barely ever BEEN flamed either. And I've been online a long, long time; I used to post to tons and tons of BBSs before I ever heard of the internet. The only flames I've actually gotten have been on Slashdot, and then about half the time, I just reexplain my position and the flamer recants. Or at least acknowledges me as human.

    If there's all this rage and angst flying around on the internet, why isn't it evenly distributed? Why haven't I gotten my share? Could it be that people who get flamed a lot are somehow different than those who don't? In otherwords, could it be explained by the flamee just as much as the flamer? Jon, I'm not trying to say "it's all your fault," but maybe you're in a different position than a lot of us.

  • With /. or any of a hundred other web forums, you can just click your way in and just as easily click your way out.

    It was easy back then, too, but not AS easy, so the flame dynamic did not happen AS quickly. Modern forums, Slashdot included, have regulars as well, and it is often these regulars which put forth the most vitriolic of flames, bolstered by their high self-opinion as a 'regular' or an 'old-timer', or simply in quest of entertainment in the face of giddy nonsense posited as exciting fact.

    Flame wars are no worse than they used to be, they're just more prevalant and more visible due to the widespread availability of the internet. If http had never been invented, and we all just used text-based email, forums and chat, we'd still see the same result. The "I'm a crusty Internet olde-timer, and I remember when..." bit is getting old. Let it go.

    Flaming didn't start with the Internet, BBS's or any other electronic medium. It started with the Editorial page of your favourite newspaper, and before that on over-turned soap-boxes in the center of town, and before that on stumps in rural villiages and so on down the line.

    There is nothing new under the sun, and John Katz must not be allowed to improve is image and fiscal worth as a writer by setting himself up as a helpless victim of random 'Internet violence' and trying to convince his readers that they are all victims too.

  • I have reservations as to Sigmund Freud having cogent observations on flaming. It's my impression that Freud is being abandoned by modern psychiatry because his theories are flawed. According to one skeptic I read, Freud's theories may one day be regarded like astrology and alchemy: precursors to valid science, but no longer useful.

    Freud's two biggest contributions to psych is simply that, in many cases, there is an underlying reason in the past which explains present behaviour, and, in many cases, simply identifying this problem, and talking about it, will often lead to resolution.

    Freud is out of favour for a number of reasons, some good, some terrifying. On the good side, Freud was just a leetle too obsessed with sex; Not all problems can be attributed to a single (or repeated) incident;not all problems can be talked through - many do in fact have a biological basis. On the bad side, Western medicine, particularly in the US, is unduly influenced by both the legal system and the drug companies. Doing nothing is dangerous - fear lawsuits - even if it's the correct course to take. And prescribing drugs is even safer, legally. Which ignores the fact that there are many people who would do far better with having a hug and told they did a good job, or led into some form of physical recreation, rather than pre-scribing a chemical fix (i.e. Prozac and Ritalin, respectively). There's a whole bunch of other minor stuff, but that's the key issues. Freud's theories should be kept around, if only as just one tool in the psychiatric toolbox.

    I also have suffered from flamers, small minded people lacking the courage to say in person what can be said over the net. The basic mistake most flamers make is failing to allow that they may be mis-interpreting what was originally meant. Text is NOT the same as a face-to-face conversation - clarification takes hours, if not days, and tons of subtle, non-verbal cues/information is missing.

    Conversely, I've also had the pleasure of infuriating one idiot to the point he was issuing death threats. Kinda scary when I learned he was trying to locate me in the RW. And had a (brief) history with the psych world (from a patient perspective). Shades of Scientologists! While teasing the animals is stupid in itself, and I kinda regret pushing a loose cannon a little closer to the edge, mass flaming should be an indication to the original poster that maybe, just maybe, he ought to reconsider his/her ideas/behaviour.

  • I actually agreed with a lot that Katz is saying, but I think he assumed too much - that his definition of flamers was the same as everyone else's, for instance, which cause many to disagree with his ideas. I would have liked a better definition of flaming, instead of just "see below for some examples".

    I think there are different levels of free speech. I would categorize them by the morality of the message vs. the risk to the speaker. For instance:

    The students at Tienneman Square: While these students were not protected by free speech, their message (at least to Westerners) was basically moral, while the risk was very great. One of the greatest images is the student standing in front of the tank, who was probably killed for his act of protest.

    Martin Luther King, Ghandi: While their speech was, to a certain extent, protected by the government, they broke unjust laws, and were arrested, as part of their basically moral message. While not by the government, both were executed for their stances.

    Larry Flynt: The guy's probably been in court more than King or Ghandi - although many disagree with what he's selling, he has fought for it, defended it, at great personal risk.

    Winston Churchill: His message may have not been that moral, but if all flamers were as witty - also, when someone was insulted, they knew exactly who did it, and could respond in kind.

    The Press: They definitely take some legal risk when they run a story on a private or public citizen. However, they are not on the same legal footing as the people they attack, so I have to say they are a bit low on the risk scale. For an example, see Salon on the Washington Post's handling of the Wen Ho Lee case [].

    Most Internet posts: People may think the world revolves on their discussions, but in reality, little changes. Little risk to the debaters, except to their online personas. With the weird, backwards laws, the host of the discussion takes more risk than the participants.

    Anonymous Threats: May have something to say, but take no risk themselves, and don't try to attack on an equal footing with the victim.

    Obviously, this is not a complete list, but gives us a way to compare flammers in response to, say, this article:

    Jon Katz: A fair amount of risk, especially given his history as a flame target. And, I'm guessing, he's using his real name.

    Respondents with real info: These people respond (flames or otherwise), with their real names and contact info, and take on a bit of risk, but not as much as the headliner.

    Respondents without real info: They respond, but not even with a real email address. They take little risk to their online persona.

    Anonymous Cowards: Zero risk, even to their online persona.

    IMHO, flaming is OK if the flamer takes as much risk as the flamee, and that the two are on equal footing.

  • I'm not a person who flames, but after reading the first paragraph I supressed a powerful urge to savagely flame mr Katz just for the hell of it.

    The only thing that stops me is that I knew 9 out of 10 people reading the article would do just that.

    "Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?"
  • by I R A Aggie ( 32996 ) on Monday October 09, 2000 @10:12AM (#721079)
    I think it's great that newbies come around and ask questions, because it brings new blood to the community and new ideas.

    Ah, the "no question is stupid" line of thought. Actually, there are stupid questions -- questions that shouldn't be asked, because they're in the documentation, in the FAQ, or easily found via a google search.

    Then there's the method of asking a question. Most newbies do it right: they ask their question, perhaps poorly phrased or lacking information. But that's ignorance, and that's what we're here to correct. I actually like helping people, as it also helps me cement my own knowledge.

    Some newbies, however, come off with a major attitude of I'm asking a question, and I deserve, nay, I DEMAND an answer! Um, yeah, right bunkie. I have the answer, but with that sort of attitude, I think I'll send you my rate card instead.

    Those are the people who get fried to a crisp. IMHO, they deserve it.


  • Cause I gots karma to burn and I don't give a fuck!

    Slashdot is just like USENET on steroids. At least, it's just like all the bad parts of USENET. Why bother trying to protect my karma?
  • Why flame? In my case, laziness.

    Case-in-point: as a response to this article, I could spend an hour writing out a point-by-point refutation of Katz, and pointing out those instances where's he's not wrong, but just spouting obvious facts which enlighten no one.

    Or I could take thirty seconds on a flame, e.g., "The KatzBot must be out-of-whack; it didn't include the term 'post-Columbine.'"

  • I'm really suprised we haven't seen Katz doing an insightful investigation as to the reasons Penis Birdz are so attractive or the reasons Hot Grits down your pants are so popular.

    My prefered method of research for such an article is to have Jon Katz hooked up with a hose that pours a constant stream of steaming hot grits down his pants for at least a good thirty minutes. He ain't done till he gots fourth degree burns all over his lower half. Then he can explain to us what's appealing about it (I know, I know, his skin's a peeling! bada bum!).
  • Flaming happens because:
    1. People read something that engenders a strong emotional response, usually anger.
    2. They respond to what angered them in a manner that contains incendiary language, which is clearly expressive of their intense emotion.
    3. This message is received and responded to in kind, evoking more intense emotion, which is then communicated in the next response
    4. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. It becomes a vicious cycle.

    When we talk to people face-to-face, there are tons of social cues that we learned to attend to while growing up. These cues strongly inhibit incendiary behavior. Otherwise it would be one big constant barfight. Think of it this way, people get in fights more when intoxicated because those cues are harder to see. Online, those cues are gone.
  • Over my years on the net, I have seen different forms of flaming.

    When I was involved in the BBS community, there was flaming for the sake of flaming. Entire areas of the board devoted to insulting and attacking anyone within sight for no particular reason whatsoever. Kind of like the verbal parlor games of the French court played out in text, they were attack for the sake of attack with no real mallice meant. Sort of a creative outlet for those unable to come up with something useful to say or have a real position to hold.

    Then there is flaming when dealing with an intelectual argument. Ad hominem attacks are usually not useful in debate. It is normally the sign that you lack the ability to backup your point in any other way. The only exception I have seen to this is dealing with the incredibly thick. Sometimes you have to vent a bit when dealing with people who are so dogmatic and rigid that they cannot deal with facts or evidence that contradict their tiny world-view in any manner whatsoever. (Like Creationists on

    There is also another way flaming is used. That is to try and piss off the opponent. In a net argument, there are three people involved, you, the person you are arguing against, and the audience. The first one of the primary two to lose their temper is usually the one who loses in the eyes of the audience. Net argument can be construed as a form of weird intelectual street theatre in this case. The first person to start blowing their lines is the one who usually loses.

    Flaming does have its place, within reason. Unfortunatly, the net has also attraced some who are attempting to turn it into a "safe space" for them and their ideas. The "safe space" movement are composed of people who don't want their ideas to be challenged. They don't want an intelectual discussion where they might be proven wrong or told that they are deluding themselves. They see flaming as a threat because they see it as yet another attack on them. And since flaming is more heat than light, it makes a good scapegoat. They can then say "This is why we need more safe places on the web". To the uninitiated, it gives yet another excuse to hand over control to the control freaks.

An elephant is a mouse with an operating system.