Flaming refers to a hostile or intentionally inflammatory communication via the Internet (whether via email or not). Email flame wars may be private or public, with the public variety being most problematic. It’s strange how easy it is to fire off a quick response in anger or frustration and have that escalate into a very nasty public exchange. The same might be said of semi-public forums like Facebook pages, but those posts can at least be deleted. Once you let an email fly, you can’t get it back.
Why is it so easy to say things in an email that we would never say in person? It’s not strictly an anonymity issue, because most flame wars are conducted under the users’ actual names. I think the issue is similar to what we sometimes experience on the road. There’s something about the relative distance between us and some other car that makes us feel a bit more justified in yelling at another driver or making an obscene gesture. Whether we’re stuck in traffic or online, there’s just enough of a dehumanizing effect that we are a little more apt to act inappropriately. We have to be vigilant at all times to not engage in inappropriate behaviors, such as flaming.