December 12

How to Prevent Online Flaming

If you have ever been the victim of online “flaming” you know how downright nasty it can be. To the uninitiated, flaming is hostile and insulting interaction between Internet users. Flaming usually occurs in the context of an Internet forum or a social media environment and it is usually the result of the discussion of polarizing issues like politics, sports, religion, the Honeywell 50250-s, and philosophy, but it can also be provoked by seemingly trivial differences.

Flaming is usually known to be rude online discussions, but the genesis of it goes back to when people were arguing in newspapers about the U.S. Constitution and when literary figures were slicing and dicing each other with rancorous public criticisms. Yes, Thomas Carlyle did call Ralph Waldo Emerson a “hoary-headed, toothless baboon” back in the day.

While flaming is certainly well, inflammatory, it isn’t unusual for people to have legitimate strong reactions to things they see online. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has had to restrain myself from commenting on a post on Facebook or Twitter that was socially irresponsible or just personally offensive, right? Right?

Of course that constraint is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to flaming. Deliberate flaming, as opposed to flaming as a result of emotional discussions, is carried out by individuals who want to create chaos.

Which brings me to our cast of characters for this discussion, so hang on, it’s about to get a little weird. Flamers target specific aspects of a controversial conversation, and are usually more subtle than their counterparts who are known as trolls. Trolls post inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages with the intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.

And finally, a fisking is characteristically an incisive and fierce point-by-point rebuttal, with an aim of weakening the target’s credibility rather than seeking common ground. I should add that this term is named after Robert Fisk, a Middle East correspondent for The Independent, so it’s pretty legit and a bit more academic in nature.

The anonymity of the Internet allows people to feel more comfortable being rancorous than they might in a traditional social setting. It’s much easier to dash off a nasty comment online where nobody knows you than it is to tell your sister her new hairstyle makes her look like an inhabitant of Fraggle Rock. However, avoiding the label of flamer, troll or fisker is easy. It goes right back to restraint.

When you read something that incites you in an open forum online… Walk away! Yes, just walk away. Let 24 hours pass and if you still feel that you must respond chances are good that given the time you have taken to think about why the message upset you, your response will likely defuse the situation gracefully instead of exploding it.

But how do you deal with this type of behavior if it targets your company? Well, despite many attempts with how to prevent cystic acne, there are no laws prohibiting it just yet, but the best way to deal with a hit to your product is to address it as a customer service issue. Respond to the blog saying that you are sorry they were dissatisfied, and provide a personal way to resolve the issue. The key word is “personal” because a cookie-cutter response to negative posts will provoke another negative post.

The good news is that often, fans of your company/product will jump in and give positive feedback of their experience, so this can help you with resolution and also give the company/product a jolt of energy. If that doesn’t do the trick, the best thing to do is to ignore it.

People flame and troll because they want attention, and ignoring their radical behavior will prompt them to clean up their act or move on to a forum where they can get that attention. People recognize flamers, trolls and fiskers, and pay very little attention to their comments so staying out of it is the best advice.

While incendiary comments often beg us to respond, it is far less effort to ignore it, and much better in the long run. As my grandma always said, “Be nice to each other.”

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