Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Free Speech, Rageoholism and Flaming

Last week, I was privileged to be at an Art Slam party. That was the way a friend of mine decided to celebrate her birthday. What a fabulous idea! It was lots of fun. I made a small collage, someone else did some beading, another lady brought knitting—many people were engaged in artistic flight.

We were gabbing about this that and the other. One of the women is a journalist who runs a news blog. She was a little down because her postings on a topic that has been hot and heated in my local community had been “flamed” in the comments section. The same people, over and over again, seem to have the understanding that the blog forum is an appropriate place to say whatever you want in whatever way you want to say it. “Free Speech,” these people stridently claim when they are asked to please be nice and keep it clean. The attacks usually escalate, becoming vicious ad hominem discussions, calculated to bait you into the argument. One news blogger I know had to disallow the comments feature altogether, which she could do, because hers is an independent blog.

Is uncivil discourse in public forums really Free Speech?

No. Of course it is not. It is rageoholism, a problem rampant in our society.

If you haven’t heard of rageoholism, I would be really surprised. However, I have no doubt that you have been at the receiving end of its senseless venom.

Here is the Wikipedia definition of the term rageoholic:

A rageaholic or "anger addict" is a person who gets excited by expressing rage, or a person prone to extreme anger with little or no provocation. While "rageaholic" is not a formal medical diagnosis, it has been developed as a lay psychology term by counselors and anger-management groups seeking to help people who are chronically angry and who compulsively express fits of rage. There are also 12-step programs for dealing with rageaholics, such as Rageaholics Anonymous in Los Angeles, CA.

Key indicators of rageoholism in an individual are: compulsion, obsession, denial, withdrawal with craving, behavior that is unpredictable and irrational. It is an addiction. We had the term “road rage” long before we had the term “rageoholism”, but most road ragers are rageoholics; these folks just take out their anger from behind the wheel of a car.

When the rage addict finds the open, forum of blogging to be an easy venue, particularly within which to act anonymously. When the blogger is a purveyor of news, it is difficult to censor the community.

Rageoholics think that they have the right to behave badly, that it is okay to vent—even that venting is a healthy thing for them to do.  Ragers are “cup mostly empty” people. There can be desperation to their actions, but mostly the craving is for control of other people’s thoughts—the rager really, really wants your attention in the worst way, and needs your enabling participation in order to perpetuate the angry behavior.

When ragers act over the internet, what they do is called flaming. Here’s the Wikipedia entry on flaming:

Flaming, also known as bashing, is hostile and insulting interaction between Internet users. Flaming usually occurs in the social context of an Internet forum, Internet Relay Chat (IRC), Usenet, by e-mail, game servers such as Xbox Live or Playstation Network, and on video-sharing websites. It is frequently the result of the discussion of heated real-world issues such as politics, sports, religion, and philosophy, or of issues that polarise subpopulations, but can also be provoked by seemingly trivial differences.

Deliberate flaming, as opposed to flaming as a result of emotional discussions, is carried out by individuals known as flamers, who are specifically motivated to incite flaming. These users specialize in flaming and target specific aspects of a controversial conversation, and are usually more subtle than their counterparts. Their counterparts are known as trolls who are less "professional" and write obvious and blunt remarks to incite a flame war, as opposed to the more subtle, yet precise flamers. Some websites even cater for flamers and trolls, by allowing them a free environment, such as Flame-Wars forum.

You could call the syndrome “Bait and Bitch” and not be far from the truth. This is a mental illness that feeds on victimization and control. Every victim who engages with the rager empowers the rager to more and ramped up behavior.

This kind of rage is impotent, yet it is destructive. Victims are scarred. Damage is real.

This is the illness of a sick society.

Rageoholism is not free speech, it is the war at home.

Let us pray for our wounded society, where some people feel they have license to thrive on wounding others, because that is the only way that they can feel as though they have control or power. Let us pray for those who are wounded in this war.



  1. First of all what a wonderful post!

    I've seen what you describe all to often around the internet. People simply feel that they have the right to jump into a conversation in a comment thread and derail the whole thing. I've literally read threads where the conversation was turned upside down. It's very unsettling.

    Another thing that I've noticed is that internet forums tend to develop a culture all their own, and anyone who dares to question the forum's "culture/beliefs/opinions" will be either ignored or attacked.

  2. I so agree with you--it is what I call the Flame Ghetto. New blood gets attacked and ignored, and then thinking people go away and the trolls rule the forum.

    Not only is this "the war at home," but it is a huge threat to democracy.