Flame warriors – a full taxonomy

11/10/2002 – Have you ever visited a chess forum or the Usenet, only to recoil in horror after being viciously criticised or insulted by other visitors? The perpetrators of such attacks are known as "Flamers" and are the daily reality of news groups, even in such a sedate area as chess. Mike Reed has put together a remarkably witty, insightful and beautifully illustrated taxonomy of 'Flame Warriors'.

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The introduction of conflict and disharmony in news groups is generically known as "flaming". It is very commonplace, perhaps universal, and probably characteristic of the Internet. Even in chess flame wars can be observed in almost all forums, as well as on the chess servers. This is expecially true of unmoderated forums and news groups. It takes considerably energy of the administrators to keep the flame warriors in check.

Here are some definitions that are useful in defining the phenomenon:

Flame: 1. vi. To post a forum message or send emails intended to insult and provoke, and to direct hostility at a particular person or people. When a discussion degenerates into useless controversy, one might tell the participants "Now you're just flaming" or "Stop flaming!" to make them cool down. 2. n. A hostile, often unprovoked, message directed at a participant of an internet discussion forum. The content of the message typically disparages the intelligence, sanity, behavior, knowledge, character, or ancestry of the recipient.

The term was first used in the 1960s but may be much older than that. In Chaucer's "Troilus and Cressida", Cressida laments her inability to grasp the proof of a particular mathematical theorem; her uncle Pandarus then observes that it's called "the fleminge of wrecches." This phrase seems to have been intended in context as "that which puts the wretches to flight" but was probably just as ambiguous in Middle English as "the flaming of wretches" would be today.

Flame war: An acrimonious dispute, especially when conducted on a public electronic forum such as Usenet.

Troll: To post in a forum or on Usenet a message designed to attract predictable responses or flames. Derives from "trolling", a style of fishing in which one trails bait through a likely spot hoping for a bite. Trolls are recognized as a lower form of life on the net, as in, "Oh, ignore him, he's just a troll." One not infrequently sees the warning "Do not feed the troll" as part of a followup to troll postings.

Mike Reed has compiled a remarkable taxonomy of "Flame Warriors" with 80 different definitions, all illustrated with some of the funniest cartoons we have seen on Internet themes.

Mike is a veteran of many flame wars and has been often wounded in battle. He has retired as an active Flame Warrior, but continues to serve in an advisory capacity.

Here's a small excerpt of Mike Reed's catalogue. Click the pictures for the full description, or visit his Flame Warriors catalogue to browse all 80 categories.

Compost has few weapons at his disposal and must resort to expletives and gross vulgarities to amplify his rhetorical thrusts. Combatants know when he has spent the fury of his attack when he suggests that his opponent's mother is a professional sexual services provider.
Godzilla: It was a peaceful and productive forum; lively, congenial and a bounteous source of useful information. Then one day, completely without warning, Godzilla arose from the depths and blew his scalding breath on everything in his path.
Big Dog is a bully who doesn't hesitate to use his superior strength to intimidate other combatants. Big Dog may be smart, articulate or just plain mean, but in any case he is a remorseless fighter, brutally ripping into even the weakest of combatants.
Profundus Maximus eagerly holds forth on all subjects, but his thin knowledge will not support a sustained assault and therefore his attacks quickly peter out. Profundus Maximus often uses big words, obscure terms and...ahem...even Latin to bluff his way through battle.
Deacon: Be he a Baptist, Scientologist or Zoroastrian, in the heat of battle Deacon will call down Divine retribution on all net sinners, and will never miss an opportunity to tell everyone about his personal savior. Deacon is fervent and earnest, but never has anything of interest or substance to contribute.
Jerk is sarcastic, mean, unforgiving and never misses an opportunity to make a cutting remark. Jerk is very happy to participate in electronic forums because in cyberspace he is free to be his repulsive self – without the risk of getting a real-time punch in the mouth.
Grunter always reponds to discussion forum messages with a single word or a short phrase. Other Warriors find Grunter a particularly exasperating opponent because he will answer their lengthy pontifications with a simple "Yeah!". "Get a life.", "Whatever", "I agree." "Wrong.", etc.
Lonely Guy doesn't get out much, his social isolation drives him to do battle just for the human contact. Compassion dictates that we shouldn't get too upset with his antics. But he can be very fierce. Remember, he has nothing better to do than stew over real or imagined insults.
Propeller Head knows just about everything there is to know about computers and the internet, and is indignant that you don't. He is still much to be feared because with a few deft keystrokes he can reduce your computer to a smoking heap of ruined metal – or at least he SAYS he can...
Rebel Leader has an uncanny ability to upset the settled order of a discussion forum. Other Warriors may be excellent in mano a mano combat, but Rebel Leader's charisma, political instincts and verbal skills enable him to rally a collective assult.
Newbie: Unsteady in his knowledge of computers and cyberculture Newbie perambulates the internet, blithely stumbling his way into discussion forums. He seldom reads the FAQs and is utterly clueless about the basics of netiquette.

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