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Flaming is the act of posting messages that are deliberately hostile and insulting, usually in the social context of a discussion board (usually on the Internet). Such messages are called flames, and are sometimes posted in response to flamebait. Flaming is one of a class of economic problems known as The Tragedy of the Commons, when a group holds a resource (in this case, communal attention), but each of the individual members has an incentive to overuse it.

Although the trading of insults is as old as time itself, flaming on the Internet, like many other online 'actions', started in the Usenet hierarchies. A flame may have elements of a normal message, but is distinguished by its intent. A flame is typically not intended to be constructive, to further clarify a discussion, or to persuade other people. The motive for flaming is often not dialectic, but rather social or psychological.

Sometimes, flamers are attempting to assert their authority, or establish a position of superiority. Occasionally, flamers wish to upset and offend other members of the forum, in which case they are trolls. Most often however, flames are angry or insulting messages transmitted by people who have strong feelings about a subject. Finally, some consider flaming to be a great way to let off steam, though the receiving party may be less than pleased.

Similarly, a normal, non-flame message may have elements of a flame; it may be hostile, for example, but it is not a flame if it is seriously intended to advance the discussion.

Flame wars

A flame war is a series of flaming messages in an electronic discussion group or internet forum system such as usenet, mailing lists or forums. There are a number of characteristics of electronic communication which have been cited as being conducive to flame wars. Electronic communications do not easily transmit facial expressions or voice intonations which may serve to moderate the tone of a message. Also, there is typically a lag time between the time a message is transmitted and the time a reply is read. These two characteristics can cause a "positive feedback loop" in which the emotional intensity of an electronic exchange increases to extremely high levels.

Alternatively, flame wars may be instigated deliberately by Internet trolls. Not all trolls are successful, though.

Jay W. Forrester described a phenomenon that often happens in flamewars whereby participants talk past each other. Each participant employs a different mental model (i.e. due to fundamental differences in their assumptions about what a particular word or concept means, they are actually discussing two different things).

This article is adapted from: wikiPedia.com

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