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A flame war is a heated argument ad hominem: It primarily consists of personal insults, the rational arguments are secondary.

Flame wars usually develop out of a normal discussion in these ways:

There are also a minority of users (chronic flamers) who take enjoyment in flame wars and carry them on deliberately. Sometimes these are lumped together with trolls, but there can be a difference. Chronic flamers often have strong world views for which they have no constructive outlet. For example, an opponent of the use of pesticides on food might read a produce newsgroup and post repeated attacks on vegetable growers who use conventional growing practices (with frequent use of pesticides).

In general, we term any text that incites a flame war as flamebait. You will see this term frequently.

In a wiki a flame war can develop to a ForestFire (that means the participants start arguing on dozens of pages).

http://flamewars.net is a social bookmarking site featuring a great selection of flamewars


The Netiquette (RFC 1855 or the WikiNetiquette for wikis) was designed to avoid this for newsgroups. It was based on the anonymous 1980 "Emily Post" posting that, through manipulation of headers, would show up first when a user new to newsgroups opened a newsreader for the first time. Here are some examples from the RFC:

        FLAME ON:
        This type of argument is not worth the bandwidth it takes to send it.
        It's illogical and poorly reasoned. The rest of the world agrees with me.

        FLAME OFF

This usage has become archaic. When it was more prevalent it was usually used on material considered fairly tame by today's standards, such as a rant about the shortcomings of some particular technology, rather than an ad hominem attack

The FlameWarriors site categorizes the various fighting styles of flamers.

Theories why FlameWars occur so often

Although heated arguments happen in "RealLife" often enough, they occur more frequently online. There are many theories why this is true. Some common convincing suggestions include

When Prophecy Fails focuses on the failure of prophecies to come true, termed disconfirmation by Festinger, and the accompanied renewal of energy and faith in their source of divine guidance. His theory presupposes the cult having certain identifying features, such as: (a) belief held with deep conviction along with respective actions taken, (b) the belief or prediction must be specific enough to be disconfirmed (i.e., it didn't happen), (c) the believer is a member of a group of like-minded believers who support one another and even proselytize.

This fits so accurately for all the traditional flame wars like emacs vs vi, Linux contra Windows, etc.

How to get out of a Flame-War

Your first interest must be not to get into a flame war. That's easier than getting out of it. So:

How to get out as a person:

How to get out as a community:

I used to get into a lot of flamewars with another guy who was a mod of the same forum as me (so DissuadeReputation would be effectively impossible). The problem, of course, came when he was offended by a remark of mine which was completely opposite to his worldview (this was during a period when we had an AbsentLeader and no recourse). Eventually I learned that most could be taken care of by tact (AssumeGoodFaith) and politeness (excessive politeness by most standards), and the rest would have to be manually resolved (if you could call it that!) by mediation by a third party, and paying a lot of attention to where we were each coming from in the conflict. This was a GatedCommunity so "in open communities, there is often no way to eliminate chronic flamers without becoming a GatedCommunity" would not be completely accurate. The admin there was very reluctant to use the banhammer, which rather negated this advantage. (Where I come from, by the way, banhammer is slang for HardBan.)

Incidentally - I don't use flameon/flameoff. I use [sarcasm] and [/sarcasm]. I also type in complete sentences, without abbreviations, because this usually gives me the extra three seconds' thinking space that allows me to avoid a pretty good majority of these situations. (Usually. It's nowhere close to foolproof but it works well enough for me.)

- NatalieBrown, who labels things to bring them out into the open by habit

CategoryConflict CategoryArticle


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