Flaming Tongues

In 2006, the first case of a “web rage” attack was heard in British courts. One internet user had tracked down a man he had been having a heated argument online with and, armed with a knife, attacked him in his own home. Police at the time claimed that the incident ‘demonstrates how easily other users can put two and two together’ and prompted the nationwide campaign to stress the importance of protecting your identity on the net. But now more than ever, it seems like people are using the internet to vent their frustrations, with the mask of usernames and pseudonyms merely meaning people can be as rude and aggressive as they like without fearing the repercussions.

A new trend called ‘flaming’ seems to have swept across the internet; in chat rooms, social networking sights and blogs. Flaming refers to an intentionally hostile or insulting communication between one or more internet users and with the amount of individuals, businesses and media outlets now creating pages on the internet, this type of interaction is becoming all too frequent.

The website YouTube allows people to upload their own videos and make them available to anyone with an internet connection. Granted, listening to kids sing about acne or ranting about celebrities is neither amusing or overly interesting, but if their creators want to go to the trouble of making these videos then there is little anybody can say to stop them. Why, though, people feel the need to insult these people they don’t even know, is beyond me. One post on the website, in response to ‘A song about love’ reads ‘I genuinely wish terminal brain cancer on this odious little human being.’ At what point does it become acceptable to post such an abusive comment online? Why do people feel that they can be as rude or as hostile as they like purely because their identities are a secret?

The Mail Online posts their articles on the internet with a comment section to promote readers to feedback on the articles published, a facility which should be praised for encouraging more participation in the media. However, it seems some readers have been using the feature to attack the author personally. Charlotte Metcalf wrote an article titled ‘Waiting for the perfect man? Mr Second Best is better than Mr Nobody… and I should know!’ which was met by responses such as ‘Utter nonsense. But then again, you’d expect this rubbish by someone who says: “Ever since I was little I’ve dreamed of a happy marriage and a family”.’ Surely, it is one thing to dislike the article, whether it is for the content or the way it has been written, but another thing all together to attack the author personally?

And all the time, these hostile attacks go unpunished because their identity is a secret. This bullying goes unnoticed and uncharged purely because these bullies will never have to meet the individual they are insulting. When does it become necessary to address the balance between protecting and completely hiding your identity? Websites already monitor the majority of their content, and offering web users the opportunity to partake in discussion forums is a natural development in internet culture. But the minority who choose to abuse the system for safe browsing in order to insult the innocent are making it more and more likely that restrictions will have to be put in place. Now, whether these restrictions mean websites will take more details from users in order to locate the source of these attacks or whether it means that forums will need to be shut down, it certainly seems like a step backwards in our quest for social and technological progress.

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