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#1 Winning
#2 Strategy
#3 Word Skills
#4 Psychology

Andrew Heenan's

flame ~ n. insulting criticism or remark meant to incite anger
A Guide to Flaming

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The Flame War

Part 1: Winning - Part 2: Strategy

21 Appropriate
22 Cross Roasting
221 Cross Breaking
23 Evidence
24 Free Speech
241 Silence
25 Threats
251 Lawsuits

26 Reasonable
261 Temper
27 Trollshifting
271 Stalkers
28 Hypocrisy
29 Caution
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#1 Winning:

Outside of 'Flame' groups, where wars are routine, if there is one sure thing about flaming, it is this: There are No Winners.

Flaming is the chess of the net; a long game of skill, planning a campaign and being prepared for all that your opponent can throw at you. By the end of the War, all involved can have little doubt of the outcome.

If you were defeated, or merely a Firefighter on the periphery, then you know your place - you may be so humiliated that you may have to leave that group. But if you defeated a Damp Squib who dared to oppose you, you may be the Flame Master - but you have been seen to be a bully, and who wants to risk a few rounds with you? You can stay in the group - but how welcome are you?

There are No Winners.


#2 Strategy:

The key to survival is to think before pressing the 'send' button. Always try to anticipate your opponent's next move, and ensure you have not invited further insults. A flame war is a public event; read the postings of the Firefighters, and try to keep in tune with the Group's mood. It can be better to withdraw quietly than wait to be isolated - and don't worry, the war will carry on without you.


#21 Appropriate Response

It is important to keep the initiative, and that means keeping your eye on the ball. Your opponent may constantly hark back to the original insult (real or perceived); you must move relentlessly forward, while never losing the thread. There are some tactics that are suggested by your opponent - for example, when tempers are short, always be reasonable.


#22 Cross Roasting

If you are convinced you are right about something, you may be tempted to spread the word: it is so easy to cross-post your flames to related groups - particularly if your opponent has already cross-roasted. Once the flame war is raging, anyone who tries to limit your cross-posting or move a flame war to email is the Enemy.

But can you assume that everyone on the net is just waiting for your next literary masterpiece? Do you know the mood of the other groups? Are they even interested? If you misjudge this, then you risk humiliating yourself before a larger audience.


#221 Cross Breaking

When the latest spate of knitting rows gets crossposted to ditch construction, alt.wallpaper and tea leaf collectors, there is a temptation to say "please include us out" - unwise, as having drawn attention, your group is almost certain to be included for the forseeable future.

Try replying strongly enough to get a reply, but not so strongly that they'll trouble to track you down.

Post to all the cross-posted groups - except your own. Shame about the others, but we're talking survival, and this one often works.


#23 Evidence

Always ask for Evidence. The net is full of hearsay and fiction, so a request for evidence can defuse things. And when you post, be sure you can support your case.
Illustration: "Regarding truth itself, sometimes I, like anybody, am privy to it, and most times I'm not ... but when I see it and express it, it resonates in me when I hear it." (Gstone1470). That's one way round the problem!


#24 Free Speech

Refuse to be Silenced: Accuse your opponent of attempting censorship, even though its probably a tad of an exaggeration. It is your right to post whatever you want to the net, even tasteless, obscene or boring notes. On the other hand, you might stop for a moment to consider your audience's right not to be upset, insulted or bored. Posting privately can be a sensible - and honourable - strategy: but your words may be copied publicly. Think about it.


#241 Silence

Never underestimate the power of silence. The Flame Wars, like it or not, is a clash of egos; and a public one at that. Being ignored will rattle all but the most experienced protagonist. But this is a positive action, not to be confused with sulking. Your self control, if you are consistent, will enhance your reputation. It is worth having a policy on silence, such as:

  1. Never respond to simple abuse, it only encourages them
  2. Never respond immediately; always see the number - and quality - of posts
  3. Never respond to two-centers - go for quality
  4. Never respond to clinical insanity - chances are you cannot help, and you risk a life-long relationship

Silence can be golden!


#25 Threats

On the net, as elsewhere, empty threats are pointless - and everybody knows that. And what threats can you carry out on the net? Unless, of course, you are the majordomo*, webmaster or site owner. If you are not, do not make threats. You do have the option, if your opponent breaks the rules, of informing their internet service provider (abuse@[their ISP]). It may get them bounced off. But as a threat it sounds like "I'll tell my mum"; either do it, or don't do it.

*majordomo - now there's a word that used to feature in a Flame War; not any more!


#251 Lawsuits

Don't Threaten Lawsuits: Threatening a lawsuit is simply embarassing: 'By saying that I've posted to the wrong group, Bertha has libelled me. See you in court, Bertha.' ... Who do you think you are kidding? The only successful net-related lawsuits have involved large corporations. Do you have big money to burn?

Lawyers trump flamers any day - but a Flame War trumps a threat of a lawyer, evey time!


#26 Be Reasonable

One way to look at a flame war is that it is a duel; the one who loses their temper loses all. Being reasonable increases the likelihood that your opponent will crack first; being reasonable increases your self confidence, being reasonable gives all the opportunity for peace with honour. But this means be very reasonable - polite, well written postings. Concede that your opponent has a valid point or two. But also be careful - too much "niceness" can be patronizing.


#261 Temper

Don't lose your Temper: At some point during your wonderful career as a flamer you will undoubtedly end up in a flame war with someone who is better than you (when seasoned flamers collide, the winner shall be known as a Flame Master). This person will expose your lies, tear apart your arguments, make you look generally like a bozo. At this point, you will be tempted to insult the dirtbag, but Do Not. If you lose your temper, you have lost the Flame War. When tempers start to fray, simply be reasonable and you are safe.


#27 Trollshifting

There is no better way to shift a troll from a newsgroup than simply to ignore it. Sometimes, that is not possible; perhaps it has succeeeded in upsetting people. Never address the troll ("Troll Off ...") as any direct response simply feeds it. Search for the troll by name or slogan. Send a message, headed 'Troll Alert' to the group, with text along these lines:

 [email protected] (not its real name) is a troll. 
It regularly frequents at least twenty news groups, including many rabid/sex/racist 
groups. Normally, it starts off with reasonable, even witty lines, but rapidly 
drifts into lies, abuse and stupidity. It is a sad creature, deserving of pity, 
not anger. Any direct response simply feeds it, but it will go away if you ignore 
it. You may check it at http://groups.google.com/ 

The key to success is a cool, measured, accurate posting. In my experience, unless the group is silly (in which case, they deserve a troll or two) this never fails. [more about trolls]

If you really must address the troll, give it this URL: http://www.flayme.com/troll/trollone.html
(It really is totally harmless: just a well designed .gif ...)


#271 Stalkers

Stalkers are a special case of Troll, and often occur in the same sad individual. As in the real world, the Stalker adopts an individual, either loved or hated, and is persistent. They can be unnerving, but, of course, the chances are that they are even more pathetic than the average Troll, with too little brain power to take a hint. But they can put their soul into the job [example], and have been known to attempt hacking and mailbombing.

It is vital that you never enter into correspondence; if taken in once and conned into a response, learn! It may feel discourteous, but on the internet it is unwise to respond to any suspicious email; if you are active in newsgroups (and Flame Wars), carve that advice onto your monitor.

Always save the whole email, if threatened or abused; always report the Stalker, if you can identify, and , as in the example, a public display can help.

[more about Internet stalkers]


#28 Hypocrisy

There is no point in challenging hypocrits unless you can really demonstrate their hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is about self-deceipt, and little good will come out of forcing people to face unpleasant truths about themselves. Equally, there is no point in letting it get to you!
On the other hand, public exposure can be very effective.

Illustration: One of the best things I have ever found on the Web is Arachnophilia; the software used to create this page. Paul Lutus, the man who developed Arachnophilia, will accept no money - he calls it 'CareWare'; briefly, you should be nicer to people [details].

In another article on the same site, Paul Lutus says, for example "Another brain-dead company has invented yet another meaningless HTML suffix ..." He may be right, but he can't have it both ways!


#29 Caution

A word of caution: Flaming really can be painful. It is wise to watch from the sidelines until you are familiar with the rules - and even when confident, it is safer to experiment and develop your own strategies before leaving yourself wide open. Every group has one or two members who can be relied on to squash the idiots and the innocents - be sure you know who they are (remember the gunslingers of the 'ole west. Once you make a splash, everyone wants to try their luck).

Once you commit yourself, unless you have disguised your own identity, you have labelled yourself for good or ill


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Guide to flaming