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why do internet fights hurt me so?

Just had a recent spate of flamey acrimony on LibriVox (which is usually an oasis of kind and pleasant discussion). It’s amazing how draining these things are for people. I didn’t get too worked up personally, tho I spent too much time trying to convince people to stop being so … imflamatory. And I did lose my cool at one point and violated my How to Deal with Difficult People tract.

But: I wonder why it is that the Internet flame war/acrimonious debate is *such* an emotionally intense experience. I certainly never in my daily life get involved in such stuff, I can’t remember the last argument I had with someone in real life. But on occasion I’ve been in some pretty tense internet stuff. I understand why they happen (the missing subtext, humour missed, inference of mean-spiritedness, when often humour was the intent etc).

But it’s curious that they are so …well…enraging.

Often when you think/look back at them, you ask yourself, why was I so riled up about *that* discussion? What was it about that sentence that made steam come out of my ears? Or at least I do.

And when your involved in these things, you craft these long-winded, debate-ending, brilliant pieces of unanswerable prose. And then wait panting for the response! And the whole thing starts over again. I’m ususally pretty reasonable in my approach to these things – I rarely lose my temper – but still, they are really emotionally draining.

What is it about text, and especially internet/forum mediated text, that makes the hot debate so so so emotionally intense?


  1. Chris Hughes Chris Hughes 2007-09-27

    Think of it as a positive that you still get uptight. I am sure some communities are so used to it, that they would only feel numb about it.

  2. Justin Justin 2007-09-27

    I think in the real world there is a natural point at which people walk away – both literally and figuratively. They either literally walk away from the person who they are having issues with and/or there is a point at which everyone backs down because further escalation could result in violence. On the internet there is no such point and there is no ‘walking away’. I mean you can walk away from your computer, but if you return to the same online communities the person is likely to still be there.

    There is also the time issue – if I have trouble with someone at my neighborhood coffee shop I can still go there and odds are we won’t both go at the same time. Online the time doesn’t matter. I post a message and you come along 12 hours later but the message is still there etc.,

  3. Boris Boris 2007-09-27

    put another way: loss of physicality (or threat of physical escalation, i.e. getting yer ass whooped), amongst other [psychological/emotional] things, brings out the worst out in people.

    and an opportunity to bring out the best… :)

    Douglas Addams put it as “the worst possible social desease: telepathy.”

  4. Lauren Lauren 2009-04-26

    I know, right? So one time, on YouTube, I saw a huge internet fight between these two people because one spammed (They said, “I have the lyrics to Sweet Escape by Gwen Stefani on my channel”) and the other was highly irritated by the spammer. It was fun to watch, but I wondered if they were just joking or if they were seriously furious at each other. And then, again, they could have sent many more nasty or humorous personal messages to each other.

    Well, here’s my answer: Some people probably feel a bit more sensetive to what people they don’t know say about them. For example, since you probably don’t know me and I said something nasty like, “You’re fat,” or something, you’d probably feel steam because you don’t know me, there’s no way to get back, and most of all, you probably don’t know how to handle it. But if I was a kid going to your school and I said something nasty like the one above, you would know how to deal with the situation, there would be well-known people around you, and everything would just be easier to handle.

    Now, another thing: some people on the internet may have a short temper, whether it’s just a part of their nature or they failed a test, or they got fired from their job. Those short-temptered people may think it’s going to alleviate some stress if they go and intentionally pick a fight and/or hurt someone else’s feelings. That’s when you just let go and say, “Well, I know it’s not my fault, and this person must be grumpy or angry for some reason, so I’ll just let them deal with their own issues… on their own.”

    Well, I hope I helped. Bye!

  5. Vanessa Vanessa 2011-01-07

    Internet fights are stupid.
    Its pointless and a waste of time, the person doesn’t know who you are, if they say ridiculous things about you, your family or your appearance ‘like your fat’ or ‘you’re ugly’ how would they know? (unless this person is Facebook stalking you)

    And I hate spammers and trolls who get their daily kicks by starting fights…really, get a life or something.

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