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An Important Issue in Computer Mediated Communication: Flaming

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An Important Issue in Computer Mediated Communication: Flaming

Eileen Paek

University of Houston: COMM 4378

September 16, 2017

An Important Issue in Computer Mediated Communication: Flaming


Communication in the modern day most often times includes some sort of technology. Whether it is by texting with a cellphone or sending an email, these types of communication in an advanced for of communication called computer-mediated communication or simply, CMC. CMC is a type of communication or interaction among people that occurs through the use of computers (Thurlow, Lengel, Tomic, 2004 ). CMC can occur through various programs of technology, such as email, instant message (IM), group forums, or even a comment on a post in social media. There are many benefits and advantages to CMC’s; however, it is inevitably prone to “flaming”.

Flaming can be described as hostile and aggressive interactions in CMC that one person has written to intentionally hurt another (Thurlow, Lengel, Tomic, 2004). These interactions may involve profanity, harsh insults, or obscenity, and may result in invoking certain negative emotions to the receiver. There are often many debates in CMC’s, which makes flaming inevitable. However, unlike face-to-face debates,  the flamers do not physically interact, and sometimes like to stay anonymous. Flaming is prone to be more common in some areas of CMC rather than others (Thurlow, Lengel, Tomic, 2004). For instance, although flaming on email is possible; it is more common on group forums where anonymous users can openly attack one another and involve themselves in a heated debate. Research shows that staying anonymous when online, may not only give the user a sense of freedom, but also reduces any barriers of reticence and feelings of culpability to the recipients (Douglas, McCarty, 2001).

Flaming on social media can be portrayed as a nasty comment on a post, a fiery debate on a public forum, or even a post directed towards a certain person or group that may include an aggressive or sarcastic remark. Flaming can be a result of an individual’s demographic, behavioral, and/or psychological upbringings (Alonzo, Aiken, 2004). There are 4 human motivation theories that pertain to motives for flaming: stimulation, tension reduction, expression, and assertion (Alonzo, Aiken, 2004). Stimulation reflects a cognitive paradigm, in which an individual has the need to escape from his or her boring life (Alonzo, Aiken, 2004) and seek do something exciting or wrong that can give them a rush of adrenaline. The second motivation theory is for those who are looking to relieve their stress or anxiety by pursuing experiences to alleviate the negative anxiety in their everyday lives (Alonzo, Aiken, 2004). Like the second motivation theory, the third one, expression, is an affective paradigm, in which individuals pursue fulfillment and pleasure by behaving however they are feeling in result of their need of stability (Alonzo, Aiken, 2004). The assertion theory explains hoe people crave authority and dominance over others and how it affects their behavior online (Alonzo, Aiken, 2004).

Flaming and aggressive social behavior is incredibly complex and is prone to evolve over time (Thurlow, Lengel, Tomic, 2004). The Interactional-Normative Framework focuses on understanding exactly what flaming is, setting it apart from any specific characteristics, and recognizing its inconsistencies in interactional standards (O’ Sullivan, Flanagin, 2003). Many times with the use of CMC’s, many people are concerned with the outcomes of flaming and they overthink and misinterpret different types of normal, non-aggressive communication as flaming. The importance and need for the Interactional-Normative framework has increased as it defines and tries to expand our understanding of flaming behavior, while including possibilities from every perspective, and not just the viewpoint of the victim (O’ Sullivan, Flanagin, 2003).



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