Everyone has some idea of what is meant by flaming in forums and emails. Some realize the relationship between flaming and ad hominem attacks and add that to their definition. A practical definition is provided in the Wikipedia:
Wikipedia wrote:Flaming is hostile and insulting interaction between Internet users. Flaming usually occurs in the social context of a discussion board, Internet Relay Chat (IRC), by e-mail or onVideo-sharing websites. It is usually the result of the discussion of heated real-world issues like politics, religion, and philosophy, or of issues that polarize subpopulations (for example, the perennial debating between PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 owners). Internet trolls frequently set out to incite flamewars for the sole purpose of offending or irritating other posters.
The last part of the definition about ‘offending’ is where most ad hominem comments are directed. Still an ad hominem attack is only a small part of what is considered flaming. An ad hominem attack is not necessarily a flame and a flame is not necessarily an ad hominem attack.
Flames are usually blatant and tend to get personal. The subtle and often veiled insults are still flames but less often identified as such. As the subtleness increases it gets harder for moderators to recognize or handle them. Belittling another person is another intellectually dishonest tactic and a subtle flame.
Behaviorists, sociologists, psychologists and others studying flaming behavior are looking for solutions to handle work place and political issues caused by people flaming one another. A part of that body of work deals with causes, definitions and responses.
For analytical purposes the behaviorists find current definitions are incomplete. They also note the behavior is not limited to communication via computer based forums. Email, paper letters, faxes, phone calls and face-to-face communication have instances of similar behavior. Flaming is generally associated with hostile and or aggressive behavior exhibited on the Internet. That limitation is arbitrary and the same behavior can appear in any communication.
Patrick B. O'Sullivan & Andrew J. Flanagin wrote:Common among lay observers is a representation of flaming as a highly negative message that functions something like a metaphorical flamethrower that the sender uses to roast the receiver verbally. Accordingly, flames have been characterized as "incendiary messages" (Tamosaitis, 1991) and "inflammatory remarks" (Bernthal, 1995). Typical descriptions represent flaming as "scathingly critical personal messages" (Cosentio, 1994), "rude or insulting" messages (Schrage, 1997), "vicious attacks" (Dvorak, 1994), "nasty and often profane diatribe" (Chapman, 1995), "derisive commentary" (Tamosaitis, 1991), "vitriolic online exchanges, poison pen letters" (Dery, 1993), or "derogatory, obscene or inappropriate" language (Seabrook, 1994). Stewart (1991) identified "overheated prose" and "brusque putdowns, off color puns, and anonymous gripes" as flames and Tamosaitis (1991) argued that flames are "not constructive criticism nor heated debate."
Reference: An Interactional Reconceptualization of "Flaming" and Other Problematic Messages …
...or in my words, A Second Look At PITA Messages/Conversations.
Researchers have also recognized that the labeling of ‘flame’ is context dependent (culture and close personal relationships) and subject to interpretation by the reader. They further recognize it is not always a ‘bad’ thing.
Patrick B. O'Sullivan & Andrew J. Flanagin wrote:Consistent with these perspectives, we approach the issue of flaming (and related types of interactions) with a focus on how it occurs, why it occurs, and what function it serves, rather than with a preconceived value judgment. Just as there may be anti-social motivations for hostile messages, there may be a number of pro-social motivations and outcomes associated with aggressive or hostile messages. For example, harsh language could be used to provoke a reticent individual into a healthy, constructive conflict. A criticism could be used to establish the sender's credibility by demonstrating a willingness to offer critical comments and not just bland, agreeable feedback.
The idea that it can be a positive thing really complicates constructing rules and guidelines for forum discussion.
To further complicate things, basic communication theory considers one outside a communication cannot reliably know the essence of a message’s meaning to the sender or receiver.
O'Sullivan & Flanagin created a table of the various interpretations and intents and inferences of a message to help define a ‘true’ flame. Based on the labeling in the table they discuss what is and is not a ‘flame’ and begin to define what they feel is an appropriate response.
While the paper is for purposes more precise than our needs it does reveal the causes for flames, results and appropriate responses. Their working definition of ‘flame” they use is: A "flame" is a message in which the creator/sender intentionally violates (negotiated, evolving, and situated) interactional norms and is perceived as violating those norms by the receiver as well as by third-party observers.
I think the definition fits their purpose but is about has handy as a lead balloon for our purposes. I include it because it has an aspect our typical definitions lack. While I consider what they are saying is a flame is any communication that does not fit our normal style of conversation and context, I find it too broad for our use, but it includes the idea of ‘our normal standard of conversation’.
Knowing that it is difficult for a third person to reliably know what a writer intended we may write a more useful definition that moderators could use. Before I attempt that also consider; problems in forum communication often arise from misunderstandings. Moderators are no better at understanding writers’ intent than anyone else. Rather than place the difficult task of interpreting intent on the moderators, I think it is better to replace the understanding of a writer’s intent with whether or not the style and words are appropriate by forum standards.
Often flaming is used as a deliberate but intellectually dishonest debate tactic. One is often deciding if an opponent is being emotional and reacting or calculating and deliberate.
Flaming is often an act of hostility. In general conversation I suspect many consider hostility synonymous with anger and aggressive behavior. Some psychologists define it as a display of a refusal to accept evidence one’s perception of the world is inaccurate. In other words they refuse to give up a belief in the face of evidence that would convince a less invested person.
When tactics used to protect a belief are out of proportion to the context of a conversation (flaming) it is usually and indicator evidence presented is making a belief untenable. That is the reason that those more aware of the tactics of debate and behavior consider a point won when one supporting the opposing viewpoint resorts to flames and other intellectually dishonest tactics. People can go into such a state without being aware of what they are doing. Remember the last time you were apologizing for things said in the ‘heat’ of the moment. That heat can blind us. In more rational moments we realize we were out of control. Maturity at some point moves us to be responsible for those moments and correct them.
Handling such outbursts is usually a matter of calling attention to the high emotional level. The challenge is in doing that without being flip, patronizing or making one’s own emotional response.
Deliberately flaming is also a propaganda tactic used to lay the foundation for a ‘Spiral of Silence’ to isolate opposing opinions. The tactic is defeated or enforced as more people speak up. Those that do not tolerate confrontation well are often intimidated to withdraw or remain silent. Moderators often have to step in and control heated discussions. But, members of the forum also have to decide how they will handle it and whether they will continue to participate, speak up or leave.
As volatile topics draw more members into the discussion, clicks and groups of friends can begin to line up and take sides. Those running agendas (in politics especially) will often form teams that are called into tilt a discussion one way or the other. It is difficult to know when a group of people chime in because of similar beliefs or because a team is working the conversation.
Moderators may notice people that seldom post on the forum and only post in concert with specific people. It is indicative of clicks or teams but not proof. It is hard for moderators to notice and keep track of all that is going on and various relationships. Most members won’t even be able to track or notice what may be happening. So, only the more blatant flames would be likely to be noticed.
Obviously the complexity of the issues can make one’s head ache. So, we need something that is simple enough to understand and broad enough to encompass these concepts. So, considering all these points I’ll suggest:
Suggested wrote: Defintion
A Flame is an intentionally hostile and insulting posting using an aggressive and/or disrespectful style and language inconsistent with the normal context of the forum. A flame is apparent to the recipient and third parties reading the post, regardless of the writer’s intent.
Insider-Insults are considered flames. It is the recipient’s duty to report and explain the insult and provide substantiation of such when reporting such insults. Moderators will decide based on the forum context and their reading of the post whether the post is inappropriate for the forum. The information provided and the moderator’s reading and understanding of the post will be their bases for deciding if any action is to be taken in regard to the writer.
Repeated flaming is grounds for temporary or permanent banning.
Only an idiot would think ‘A’ is better than ‘B’. – Indirect insult - flame
You are an idiot for thinking ‘A’ is better. – Direct insult – flame
You are a Cyan lover. – Direct ad hominem – not necessarily an insult or inappropriate – Context dependent. Within the Uru forums context it is not necessarily a flame.
Styles of Flamer: Flame Warriors (humorous)
Most flames are ad hominem or personal attacks on a person. However, ad hominem attacks are not always inappropriate or flames. The moderators make the final call on whether a post is a flame in the context of this forum.