The High Art of Flaming in Usenet Newsgroups
The Internet's Usenet newsgroups are free, uncensored electronic bulletin boards that are read and posted to by tens of thousands of Net users every day. For some, that means a vast, powerful method of communication on a variety of topics, but for those with a touch of malice in their sick hearts, Usenet represents a fun and easy way to be a total asshole on an international scale.On the Internet, you never come face-to-face with your adversaries. No one can throw a punch when you stir them to raging anger. With this kind of anonymity its only natural that the practice called "flaming" has become cyberspace's natural extension of the classic put-down. To flame someone is to discount their advice, to hurl electronic insults in a public forum. To do it well and earn the respect of other readers is an art form, one with its own gurus, protocol, and rating system.Flaming goes on in every Usenet newsgroup, whether its a forum of gung-ho Raider fans or little old ladies trading teddy-bear patterns. Flame wars generally start as a reasonable disagreement between two readers, then as things heat up the original discussion is forgotten and a good flamer switches the approach to personal attacks. Here's a post that turned up recently in the newsgroup alt.smokers. The argument began as a series of messages trading well-supported arguments for and against the ban on smoking in bars, then degraded nicely into the following:From: Les M. To: alt.smokers Subject: smoking banI will preface this by saying that I dislike self-righteous pink-lunged assholes as much as anybody, but from reading his post, I have come to dislike Mr. S. even more.Mr. S., I've seen your previous posts, and you've got to admit, they are less than inspiring. Some of us like comprehensible sentence structure and proper spelling, but I suppose you consider such ornamentations to be effete.You are an elitist asshole. I went to a private school on scholarship and I met enough rich jerks like you to know that wealth does not imply intelligence. Based upon what I've seen of your character and what I know statistically about the likelihood of social mobility, I'd say you probably went to school on mummy and daddy's nickel, which institution tolerated your sub-par intellect only because your family's money greased the wheels for you. Your much vaunted job was probably procured by daddykins himself, and therefore is no merit to your character eitherIt's sad that you have nothing better to do with your life than spend incredible amounts of money on expensive toys and brag about it on the Internet. Let us know when you get past the age of two, developmentally speaking. Get it through your Neanderthal skull, Mr. S., NOBODY CARES how much useless shit you can buy. NOBODY CARES how much money you make. NOBODY CARES about your car, your house--GET OVER YOURSELF and grow up!--LesNote here that the word "smoking" does not appear anywhere in the text, nor is there any reference to the original debate. Extra points to Les for staying off the topic and making his flame a shot of pure bile without redeeming social value.A frequent trick of veteran flamers, one that will insure your mailbox will be filled with hate mail for weeks to come, is to attack a group of people as a whole. Part of the twisted fun is in the numbershow of many Usenet readers you can rile with a single well-crafted message.In the following post that appeared in the newsgroup alt.music.rockabilly, Jimmy M. is defending his original statement that no real rock'n'roll has been released since 1960. In doing so, he also manages to snub rockabilly fans, hippies and the whole retro movement. Nice work from a true master:From: Jimmy M. To: rockabilly mailing list Subject: poseur rockDear Stupid,Next time read my whole message before responding. All of it. If you aren't too good at reading get someone to help you. When you come to a big word you don't recognize, take your time & SOUND IT OUT! Before you know it you'll be reading real good just like big people do.ANY rock n roll not recorded on or before 12/31/59 is pathetic new wave poseurbilly. The next day The Ventures or The Beach Boys or some other bullshit losers took over, and Rock & Roll became ancient history: dead, dead, dead. Everybody forgot all about it 'til the Seventies, when everything REALLY REALLY sucked & people started lookin' for something to call the good ol' days. And then came all you retro hipster ex-hippie types who decided that Jah was out and Elvis was in. Off come the dreadlocks and up go the pompadours!So you're going to have me kicked off this list? I would consider it an HONOR to be booted. Anything less and I would be insulted. Y'know, I hear tell they once booted Hank Williams offa the Grand Ol Opry. I know somewhere, right now, he's smiling too. : )This all works out pretty well, 'cuz I'd already decided I wasn't going to be a rockabilly guy like yall anymore. I've chosen a new lifestyle: From this day forward I'm "Medieval Guy"! Yup, I'm gonna dress up in a suit of armor (a VINTAGE suit, mind you--not one of the cheapo Japanese reproductions) and tool around on a big ol' horse listening to medieval music and rescuing damsels in distress. I'll pretend it's 1254 and be talkin' real cool-like, medieval style, sayin' stuff like "ah, the gilded chalice!" and "tally ho Guinivere!", or whatever medieval guys say (I'm still just learning the lingo...).Yours truly, Jimmy M., medieval guyFlaming is not entirely without merit. The Net is still largely unregulated, and well-crafted flames serve as both judge and jury, defining what is acceptable in a given forum. For example, one of the most common mistakes businesses make when first accessing the net is cross-posting, mass-mailing a commercial sales pitch to several newsgroups with topics unrelated to the product being hawked. Net users are, as a rule, extremely sensitive when it comes to doing business via email.Here's an example of one users reaction to finding a commercial post from a porn video outfit in his email box: From: Will P. To: Video Fantasy Subject: solicitation for the "Adults Only" video serviceDear Marketing Genius;Look whoever you are, if I ever--repeat EVER--receive unsolicited, sales-related email from you again, I'm going to see to it that your domain name is revoked and put a voodoo hex on you and your two-bit nudie outfit, in that order. Its fast-buck sales types like you that are responsible for the bad rep the net is getting today. I refuse to stand by and the Internet become just another sales tool for coke-sniffing, Miata-driving, upwardly mobile yuppie fuckheads like yourself.By sending unsolicited e-mail with adult content, you have violated one of the most valuable assets of the net: private e-mail. Do you understand the word private? Would you like to someday see every net users e-mail box full of crap mail like our U.S. postal boxes are today? Think about it. But then you probably don't care as soon as you first logged on the Net with your free America Online disk, your little one-track profit-driven mind started churning with ways you could exploit this new medium by selling cut-rate T&A and making a quick buck. Face it, you don't know jack about the net. You're one of society's bottom feeders that is willing to prostitute anything and everything if it will get you that leather couch from Leading Edge.Your worthless ilk have taken over the postal service, radio, and television, but I promise you that I will continue to kick and scream before I let you take over this medium. Sure, you'll probably get a few responses to your mail, probably from horny 16-year-olds, but then the structure of the net will change and because you don't know enough about protocol, your business will shrivel and die. You'll be eating pork-n-beans from a tin can on the curb. Wish I could see it.--Willp.s. may your children grow up to be chronic public nose-pickers.A little practice and a lot of unresolved anger is all it takes.SIDEBAR: How to Be Rude, Crass, and Insensitive on the NetApologies here to Virginia Shea, whose book Netiquette provides ten rules to proper and responsible Net behavior. We've taken Ms. Shea's tenets and adapted them to the high art of the Usenet flame.Netiquette Rule 10: Never forget that the person reading your mail is a person, with feelings that can be hurt. This presents a tremendous window of opportunity for the veteran flamer.Netiquette Rule 9: Don't post any messages to Usenet newsgroups until you get a feel for what topics are acceptable conversation in a particular group. Then jump right in and write about something totally unrelated.Netiquette Rule 8: Be aware that some readers pay for their online time by the minute, and will they will essentially be paying to read your message. Never post anything shorter than ten paragraphs, blather on endlessly about nothing at all, and be sure that your signature tag is at least 15 lines long.Netiquette Rule 7: Behave online as you do in real life. Enough said?Netiquette Rule 6: Make your online writing look its best.Always post your abuse in complete, grammatically correct sentences.Netiquette Rule 5: Share expert knowledge. If you know how to push someone's buttons, send private email to everyone else telling them how do it too.Netiquette Rule 4: Help keep flame wars under control. Start one yourself and watch it go; try starting with a proven flame-bait topic such as "Why All Italians Should Be Sent Back to Italy"Netiquette Rule 3: Respect other people's privacy. If you have some dirt about a member of a newsgroup, spread it only via private email.Netiquette Rule 2: Don't abuse your power. Flame only those who have the audacity to disagree with you.Netiquette Rule 1: Remember: You were once new to the Internet too. You deserved all the flaming you got then: the current batch deserves no less.