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Conversation | Fanning the Flames

Flaming ComputerHadas Goshen Adding fuel to the fire: the author ponders the place of civility on the Internet.

I forced myself further into the flames, my face flushed and finger burning above my touchpad— I read them all, every single scalding comment. All 20-something of them, following the new fires as they reached 30, then climbed to 40. And all I could think was, “I’m so glad it’s not me.”

Internet flaming is nothing new. Glowering into the glare of computer screens and cracking fists above keyboards, web users — safe in their basements or bedrooms — have been ranting in chat rooms and online forums for years. Miles and maybe countries away from her recipient, a flamer feels empowered to not only to speak her mind, but scream it — USING ALL CAPS!! Or employing smoldering, DESPICABLE, disgusted and APPALLING language or even $%@^&*#! to communicate the incommunicable!!!!

In the vast expanse of the World Wide Web, it used to be that the chances of an actual encounter between the anonymous flamer and flamee was slim to none. But on a hyper-local news blog in the East Village, a slender area spanning about 10 by 15 streets, the cyber-world reduces into a neighborhood, and things get more personal. Is it still O.K. to bash (on a community forum by and for local residents) the storeowner down the block on Avenue A, or that obnoxious woman you always avoid at Tompkins Square dog run?
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