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How To Avoid Flame Wars

It is exciting when someone comments on your blog. It’s part of the thrill of interactivity and relationship building that blogs offer. But what happens when those comments turn sour?

Harvard Law’s Dave Winer discusses “How to Avoid Flame Wars” and says:

When you’ve written something strong and personal, before posting, re-read it and pause for a few moments. Re-read what you’ve written and imagine that someone said what you’ve said, about you. Would you like it? Would you feel it was fair? Or would you feel angry? If so, you should probably reword it, so at least you would be okay with it. That doesn’t guarantee that the person you’ve written about will be okay with it. We’re all different, our buttons are in different places, we’re sensitive to different things.

Now imagine if the person you’re writing about said what you said about you. This catches a whole other level of problem…

…Now having said how to talk about personalities, let me add this — if possible, don’t do it at all, because it’s a minefield, and your perception into another person’s personality, esp through an impersonal medium like this one, is very limited. Chances that you’ll get it right are close to nil. Chances that you’ll evoke the anger of the other person are close to certainty. So stick to talking about ideas, you’re on much safer ground. Most of us can stand having our ideas criticized, even if we don’t like being criticized as a person.

Like everywhere else, most of the people participating in discourse on the Internet are good people wanting to do good things. There are a few people with other motives, god knows why, but they surely are there. For most people, the best rule is The Golden Rule, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. We’re all human, so there are times when we break the rule, but in general it should apply to discourse everywhere, including the Internet.

The articles continues to discuss how to respond to such attacks, but go even further. If these attacks are on your blog, you have the right to decide if they will remain public or not. You have the right to control what is said and visible to the public on your blog, so make those practices and decisions public through the use of a good Comment Policy.

You also have the right to control the ignition of a flame war. If you want one, I’m sure you can go out looking for anything to spark a flame, but if you don’t, then use some self control before you publish posts or comments that might incite a riot.

I hear a lot of talk about rights and freedoms, and yet, honestly, the greatest freedom we have in this world is the right to control our tongue and typing fingers. It’s your brain. Use it. And use it judiciously.

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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen


  1. Posted February 3, 2006 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    Amen to that. I stay in the part of the blogospehere that’s very prone to flame (or blog) wars due to our high percentage of personal bloggers. It’s quite normal to rub heads especially in the mock pursuit of being a local A-List blogger. It’s pretty childish and more often than not I try to stay out of it.

    The sad thing is, sometimes you can’t comment on other peoples blogs anymore because they’ll take any difference in opinion no matter how polite it may be as a reason to start a flame war. Freedom of speech my butt. You can’t have such freedom when half the time people don’t use their heads for the right purposes.

  2. Posted February 3, 2006 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    You reminded me of one of my favorite “sayings”:

    Everyone was born with two ends.

    One is used for thinking, the other is used for sitting.

    Success in life depends upon which one you use the most.

    Heads you win, tails you lose.

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