Flaming Hell

Reading & Writing

Recently I deleted a post on my website. After putting up what I felt was a fair and decent rebuttal to a reader, she got in touch and made it clear that she was not happy engaging in discussion. A quick check through the efiles revealed that she was one of the snarky Twi-hard fans from a few posts back. I’d run her comments then in the interest of balance.

Being me, I thought about this and decided to look into the subject of flamers. First, a dictionary definition;

‘The term “flaming” may originate from The Hacker’s Dictionary, which in 1983 defined it as “to speak rabidly or incessantly on an uninteresting topic or with a patently ridiculous attitude”. They are more subtle and precise than their counterparts, ‘trolls’, who are less professional and write obvious and blunt remarks to incite a flame war.’

Well, that just sounds like an good old-fashioned and slightly inebriated argument in a pub, I thought. A good thing, surely?

As it turns out, no. A quick call around to other writers who run blogs revealed the extent of the problem. What’s happening is that whenever we comment negatively on anything, we get hit by increasing numbers who are simply disruptive and insulting without presenting valid arguments. 99 percent of these don’t make it to the comments pages, but I have to trawl through them all and make a decision on each one, and that takes time. What I try to do is avoid any censorship that would result in a reduction of balanced argument. Socrates was the dude.

But it’s getting to the point where I don’t feel like trying to have an interactive site at all. I could run an anodyne blog filled with optimism and LOLcats, simply pushing readers toward book sales, as a great many authors do, but I want to be more wide-ranging here and make things interesting.

I think one of the problems of Facebook is that the young are encouraged to present an alternative version of themselves online – by creating permanently happy, party-going, friend-filled lives they can micro-manage their own self-image. A side effect of that is a refusal to engage in rational discussion without throwing an emotional strop. At a screening of ‘The Social Network’, Aaron Sorkin came out against Facebook, saying that this was exactly the problem for him – it could easily build artificial worlds around users, giving them a false worldview. He was hissed at by the teens in the audience.

Anyone who has ever dealt with the public on a regular basis knows that you have to be very patient and rational, or you’d end up burning someone’s house down. The public beast – as a group – can become a very alarming, illogical thing (one thinks of the pedophile panic that gripped the nation after press witch-hunts).

The end result; I and my fellow authors who run more interactive sites will continue expressing opinion whether positive or negative – hey, it’s what sentience is for – and anyone whose comment I post can expect to engage in intelligent discussion with other users. It seems like a fair deal to me. Or I could simply tell you that ‘Bryant & May and the Invisible Code’ is out August 2nd at all good bookshops. Er, and online.

11 comments on “Flaming Hell”

  1. Cid says:

    The trouble starts when you think of people using a computer sitting in a room and typing, and therefore being more thoughtful and considerate than if they were standing in a room shouting. Always, always, picture them as standing in a room shouting, then if they turn out to be more sane you can be pleasantly surprised.

    And refer the most serious miscreants here.

  2. Alison says:

    One of the most destructive things about the internet is the fact that people can hide behind other identities and just cast out insults for the sake of it, even (particularly) if they have no cogent argument. I’ve never touched Facebook and Twitter and never intend to since I think they’re absolutely the work of an Evil Power, and whilst we are all entitled to opinions, this steamrollering is beyond funny. Have people really got nothing better to do? Plus it detracts from anybody who would like to have a discussion with an author. Sometimes I think the silent majority could do with being less silent.

  3. Mike Cane says:

    Oh dear. That’s been happening, has it? Yes, anyone who dares to opine about the Fiction of the Day inevitably brings down the wrath of fans. (One hopes this happens at blogs elsewhere should anyone say something unkind about *your* work too!)

    I dunno, does this boil down to what is a “bad” book? It’s an argument I’ve had with others. My point of view is that *everyone* starts out reading crap (well, OK, 99% of us) and that’s a good thing, because we’re reading, and many of us move on to better books and call tell what is superior fiction from inferior.

    As for best-sellers, shallow crap that some of them might be, you have to admit that there *must* be *something* there that appeals to a wide group of people, otherwise it wouldn’t be selling like that. Which is the way of madness, really, because then writers sell out and try to write a “best-seller” and just add to the pile of “bad” books instead of doing what they as a *writer* can do. (One, say, Bukowski is worth a hundred “best-selling” writers — as is one Christopher Fowler!)

    Let me point you to Baldur’s lengthy article about this. It’s the most recent one on the subject:

    Bad writing
    http://www.baldurbjarnason.com/notes/bad-writing/

    That really makes book reviews worthless, really. All someone can do is say “I like this” or “I didn’t like this” — and as non-controversial as even that would be, it would still bring out the opposition in droves.

    Anyway, don’t let any of it discourage you and make you turn this blog into “Here’s me book, spend your money on it here and here and there.”

  4. Diogenes says:

    I spend a lot of time on a political blog in Australia. Often people who troll or start flame wars are staffers of the political parties who are being paid to get out a message. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of your problem posters are paid by publishers.

  5. Helen Martin says:

    Do not think too seriously about Diogenes’ suggestion because that way lies madness. He’s correct about political parties for sure but I don’t think publishers have enough money to have staff with time to do that sort of thing.
    I have 7 different roses in bloom. Imagine I have cut a bouquet of them – and they’re all scented ones- and it has just arrived in your flat, all yellow, pink, red, stripy and orangey yellow. There, isn’t that better?

  6. glasgow1975 says:

    *regrets his Hell Train mini review* :(

  7. Lostintown says:

    I’ve seen quite a few flame wars and trolling over the years.
    Generally,it seems best to treat them like an annoying drunk on a bus. Don’t make eye contact and carry on the conversation as if they weren’t there.

    You can’t reason with them so it’s no use trying.

    Just keep up the good work for those who appreciate it.

  8. Rich says:

    I think the Internet and, especially, Internet Forums unfortunately encourage people to say and behave in a fashion which they would never do face to face. The last forum I was on was for a gardening one and the experience was extremely depressing. While the forum is full of jokes, pictures, birthday greetings, it became clear if anyone posted views which a very small group of posters disagreed with, then these guys would come down on you like a ton of bricks. If you complained, their response was that the problem was with you, not them. So if you were into Organic gardening, environment, even if you were a vegetarian it seemed that you were fair game to be made fun of and belittled. If you tried to engage with them, they would move the goalposts, so whatever was said, was never good enough. I think a lot of it was that these people had found somewhere where they could vent, without having the real reaction they might get in the flesh, if that makes sense.

  9. Red Wolf says:

    Some people are just arseholes and always will be.

    I’m tempted to refute the suggestion that some trolls could be staffers, but I have a fairly obscure site that mentioned a problem with a company and ended up getting trolled by a moron who worked for them. Apparently it’s all my fault they suck. I’m baffled he thought it was worth the effort, but I do lean towards him being generally obnoxious rather than paid to troll.

    If the trolls get too much, turn the comments off. It’s not worth your time and effort to get the stupid to play nice. Yeah, people will complain, but it’s your site and your rules and it shouldn’t become a pain to manage.

  10. Helen Martin says:

    I was just reading a comment by the artist who draws Pibgorn. He doesn’t see why he should have to have a bundle of comments at the bottom of his strip and told his syndicate that he would withdraw the strip. They said they would withdraw the comments section and that’s where it is now. If you really have something to say to him ‘you can always write to me.’ It is an option but I really hope you don’t have to resort to it.

  11. Anne Fernie says:

    There’s an epidemic of emotional incontinence about – maybe this could be tied in with the infantilising of adults that you discuss in one of your more recent blogs. I’ve too noticed how lame a lot of people are at presenting a considered, informed argument. It seems that shouting your opponent down is the way to go…..

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