Flaming (Internet) - Theory


Many social researchers have investigated flaming, coming up with several different theories about the phenomenon. These include deindividuation and reduced awareness of other people's feelings (online disinhibition effect), conformance to perceived norms, miscommunication caused by the lack of social cues available in face-to-face communication, and antiprocess.

Jacob Borders, in discussing participants' internal modeling of a discussion, says:

Mental models are fuzzy, incomplete, and imprecisely stated. Furthermore, within a single individual, mental models change with time, even during the flow of a single conversation. The human mind assembles a few relationships to fit the context of a discussion. As debate shifts, so do the mental models. Even when only a single topic is being discussed, each participant in a conversation employs a different mental model to interpret the subject. Fundamental assumptions differ but are never brought into the open. Goals are different but left unstated. It is little wonder that compromise takes so long. And even when consensus is reached, the underlying assumptions may be fallacies that lead to laws and programs that fail. The human mind is not adapted to understanding correctly the consequences implied by a mental model. A mental model may be correct in structure and assumptions but, even so, the human mind--either individually or as a group consensus--is apt to draw the wrong implications for the future.

Thus, online conversations often involve a variety of assumptions and motives unique to each individual user. Without social context, users are often helpless to know the intentions of their counterparts. In addition to the problems of conflicting mental models often present in online discussions, the inherent lack of face-to-face communication online can encourage hostility. Professor Norman Johnson, commenting on the propensity of Internet posters to flame one another, states:

The literature suggests that, compared to face-to-face, the increased incidence of flaming when using computer-mediated communication is due to reductions in the transfer of social cues, which decrease individuals’ concern for social evaluation and fear of social sanctions or reprisals. When social identity and ingroup status are salient, computer mediation can decrease flaming because individuals focus their attention on the social context (and associated norms) rather than themselves.

Generally, then, a lack of social context creates an element of anonymity, which allows users to feel insulated from the forms of punishment they might receive in a more conventional setting. Johnson identifies several precursors to flaming between users, whom he refers to as “negotiation partners,” since Internet communication typically involves back-and-forth interactions similar to a negotiation. Flaming incidents usually arise in response to a perception of one or more negotiation partners being unfair. Perceived unfairness can include a lack of consideration for an individual’s vested interests, unfavorable treatment (especially when the flamer has been considerate of other users), and misunderstandings aggravated by the inability to convey subtle indicators like non-verbal cues and facial expressions.

Read more about this topic:  Flaming (Internet)

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