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Flaming is the act of posting or sending offensive messages over the Internet. These messages, called "flames," may be posted within online discussion forums or newsgroups, or sent via e-mail or instant messaging programs. The most common area where flaming takes place is online discussion forums, which are also called bulletin boards.

Flaming often leads to the trading of insults between members within a certain forum. This is an unfortunate result, as it often throws the discussion of a legitimate topic well off track. For example, the topic of a discussion forum may be "Choosing a Mac or a PC." Some Mac user may post a message gloating about the benefits of a Mac, which in turn prompts a response from a PC user explaining why Macs suck and why Windows is obviously the better platform. The Mac user may then post a reply saying that Mac users are, in fact, a more intelligent species who are not as naive as PC users. This kindles a more personal attack from the PC user, which incites an all out flame war.

These flame wars, also called "pie fights," are not limited to only two people at a time, but may involve multiple users. This causes a swell of negatively within online discussion groups and results in little, if any, productively. Flaming is unfortunately one of the most common breaches of online netiquette. Instead of being considerate of others' viewpoints, "flamers" force their own agendas on other users.

While some flaming is intentional, some is not. This is because users may misunderstand the intent of a another user's message or forum posting. For example, someone may make a sarcastic comment that is not understood as sarcastic by another user, who may take offense to the message. Using emoticons and clearly explaining one's intent can help avoid online misunderstandings. Because of the adverse effects of flaming, it is best to err on the side of humility and be courteous when posting or sending messages online.

First Published: 2007
Last Updated: November 30, 1999

Definition from the PC Glossary