Flaming? What flaming? The pitfalls and potentials of researching online hostility

Jane, E. A. (2015). Flaming? What flaming? The pitfalls and potentials of researching online hostility. Ethics and Information Technology, 17(1), 65–87.

Link: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10676-015-9362-0

Open access: No

Notes: In this review article, Emma Jane analyzes the state of academic inquiry of flaming—taking flaming as prototypes and variations of a larger discussion around violence in digital platforms. Starting this review, the author summarizes three paradigmatic waves of flame-related research, going from a focus on the effects of computers on violence to a focus on definitions of e-bile and other forms of vitriol, and finally with a ‘phantom third wave’ where relevant research is absent. More important from these waves was a transformation from seeing the study of online violence as a social, ethical, and political problem to focusing on methodologies and definitions. This has resulted, for Jane, in a “a focus on one dimension of online hostility (its innocuous, productive, or celebratory elements) arguably at the expense of other, more ethically pressing dimensions of the discourse: that is, the harm it can cause both to targets, as well as to the inclusiveness of the public cybersphere.” (p. 76).

One of the most essential takeaways from this article (and indeed, one of the most critical insights I included in this literature review so far) is that studying online violence should not be merely an epistemological or ontological endeavour. Instead, it should be a field of inquiry with an ETHICAL horizon.

Abstract: This article identifies several critical problems with the last 30 years of research into hostile communication on the internet and offers suggestions about how scholars might address these problems and better respond to an emergent and increasingly dominant form of online discourse which I call ‘e-bile’. Although e-bile is new in terms of its prevalence, rhetorical noxiousness, and stark misogyny, prototypes of this discourse—most commonly referred to as ‘flaming’—have always circulated on the internet, and, as such, have been discussed by scholars from a range of disciplines. Nevertheless, my review of this vast body of literature reveals that online hostility has historically posed a number of conceptual, methodological, and epistemological challenges due to which scholars have typically underplayed, overlooked, ignored, or otherwise marginalised its prevalence and serious ethical and material ramifications. Fortunately, lessons learned from my analysis suggests promising approaches for future research into this challenging form of new media discourse.

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