In an essay in the New York Times science section yesterday, Daniel Goleman, author of Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships, points to research that indicates that lack of face-to-face contact is the key to the "online disinhibition effect," aka, flaming. Social psychologists find that in normal interactions, people take social cues from one another's facial expressions, tone of voice and so forth and moderate their responses.
In internet discourse such immediate social cues are lacking and some people start referring to those with whom they disagree with such names as "dumbfuck" which, one presumes, they would be more reluctant to do, say, if they met their opponent at a party.
Flamers be warned. Goleman cites a recent example of "web rage" provoked by flaming.
Last October, in what The Times of London described as "Britain's first 'Web rage' attack," a 47-year-old Londoner was convicted of assault on a man with whom he had traded insults in a chat room. He and a friend tracked down the man and attacked him with a pickax handle and a knife.
What to do?
One proposed solution to flaming is replacing typed messages with video. The assumption is that getting a message along with its emotional nuances might help us dampen the impulse to flame.
As for me–I would rather that the insults keep coming instead of letting people see me working comfortably dressed on my computer at home. On the other hand, I believe that people are learning that flaming is counterproductive and are already becoming more polite cyber-citizens.
Whole Times essay here .