Flaming Email–The Disinhibition of It All

In an essay about flaming Danial Goleman provides
in intriguing assessment about why we flame.

Have you ever been flamed? Have you received an email that contained language so strong it made you wonder about the sender’s mental state?

Email and text messaging have made it easier to fire off an angry response while emotions are hot and you can get it off your chest. The “it” being whatever word or act has ticked you off.

Where I work we get a daily dose of these emails. Some are repeat offenders. But others are new flamers (to us). Our customer service staff get email responses from people that I’m sure would make the writers blush if they said these things to the staff person face-to-face. Some are abusive, some lewd, and some are heartless putdowns.

I’ve received notes condemning me to hell, calling me the anti-Christ and asking me if I’ve ever had an ecumenical bone in my body. At first, it came as a shock that some of these writers are college professors and a couple are teachers of theology. But I’ve long since gotten used to flames and I take stridency in stride.

In an essay in the New York Times, Daniel Goleman offers an intriguing look into why we flame. He points to a 2004 article in the journal CyberPsychology & Behavior by John Suler, a psychologist at Rider University in Lawrenceville, N.J. that offers several reasons. Online we’re alone, our sense of self is exaggerated. Email and text messaging are immediate, we can react to perceived slights without delay. There’s no authority figure online to keep us in check. And we can be anonymous.

There’s a word for this online behavior. It’s disinhibition. Freed up from normal contraints, we let ‘er rip on the Internet. Netsafe, an Internet Safety Group in New Zealand, says disinhibited behavior may constitute a problem for the safety of children and some adults on the web. The group says as we adapt our behavior to the web, we might become more aggressive in daily life. On the other hand, some people may also excessively disclose information that puts them at risk.

From my reading, which I’ll admit is limited, I don’t have enough information to form a solid opinion yet. But my experiences tell me there’s something to this.

I do know that flaming disinhibition creates dissonance. I once received a flame that concluded:

“May your soul burn in hell!!!

Yours in Christ,
(the sender’s name)”

My response was, “Huh?”

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