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Flaming in computer-mediated communication

Lea, Martin, et al. (1992). “Flaming� in computer-mediated communication: observations, explanations, implications. In Contexts of Computer-mediated Communication. NewYork Harvester Wheatsheaf. pp.89-112.

The authors argue that flaming, “the hostile expression of strong emotions and feelings� (p. 89), is not as widely prevalent or inevitable in CMC as had been reported. Instead of CMC promoting such behavior, the authors state that “flaming is in fact both radically context-dependent and relatively uncommon� (ibid.). With anecdotal accounts and a survey of research literature, they present a theoretical perspective of flaming as normative, social behavior. Previous studies explained flaming as a result of the reduced availability of social cues (Kiesler et al, 1984) and the social influence of computing’s subculture (Kiesler et al, 1984; Dubrovsky et al, 1986). However, when re-examining various studies, the authors cite several potentially confounding factors: a lack of a standard definition of flaming and greater time constraints in CMC vs. FTF groups in task-completion experiments (leading to increased stress in CMC groups, perhaps contributing to greater instances of flaming) (Kiesler et al, 1985, Siegel et al, 1986, Spears et al, 1990). In addition, observed or remembered instances of flaming appear to be overcompensated, contributing to a sense of greater occurrences.

In addition, the authors argue that CMC is not devoid of social cues and group norms (Spitzer, 1986; Walther, 1992; Lea and Spears, 1993), and that communicators are aware of their audience. Instead, the authors propose a social influence theory of flaming: flaming tends to occur “within a social context that is pre-defined or communicated via the medium� (p. 109).