[Air-l] Re: Flame Wars

mweder mweder at freesurf.ch
Sun Jan 13 09:24:43 PST 2002

> Nancy White writes
> I'm wondering about the distinction between "Flame Wars" and the ongoing
> occurrence of conflict in online group interactions. Heck, conflict
> happens. Sometimes it escalates to what would be an argument F2F. Is that a
> flame war? Or is that a relic of previous time.

When I wrote my master thesis on communicative norms in german
mailing-lists, I came across flame wars quite frequently. When going
through my data, I got the impression that it was quite easy to
distinguish between flames and "normal" conflicts.
Flame wars in my data normally included, as mentioned before, comments
about the attacked person which are totally unrelated with the content
of the disagreement. Characteristics of flames can be categorized as follows:
- name-calling
- detailed "discussion" of previous mails of the victim in relation to
orthographical, syntactical or other language offences
- systematic research on traces the victim left on the internet in other
forums, homepages etc.

In many cases flame-wars originated in somebody not observing netiquette
or specific mailing-list rules, mostly new people to the list.

> One more thought. I also believe that conflict (which is the source of some
> flames -- not all is baiting for fun!)  plays an important role in groups.

How a community, such as a mailing-list, handles these conflicts, is a
sign of its quality as a interactional community. If a community is able
to sort out these kinds of conflicts, is able to find solutions and
formulate problem-solving strategies for the future, conflicts can turn
out to be very supportive in community-building. 

Mirjam Weder

More information about the Air-l mailing list