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  • Robert Farago

Flame Out!

Back in the day,The Washington Post published a profile of yours truly: This gun rights backer, armed with his Glock and his blog, is always on alert.

Fair enough, considering the Post’s anti-gun animus. The comments section underneath the post, not so much. Not at all.

The WaPo gave vent to thousands of personal attacks, from thinly-veiled death threats to comments connecting firearms fascination with penis size. The ten-year-old hatefest is now hidden behind a paywall. Gone but not forgotten.

Substacker Before and After the Book knows the score. She criticized a popular social media post (17m followers) lampooning and doxing a mailman caught farting on a Ring cam. The trolls descended en masse.

Hundreds of blowhards chimed in to tell me what an idiot I was, what a “sad sack liberal,” that I should “cry and then go write a book about it,” or “discuss this with my therapist.” The bulk of the hate came from people incensed that I didn’t understand how privacy works, that this video was from a Ring cam at someone’s private home, and thus any privacy violations pertained only to the homeowner who had suffered the unforgivable offense of someone farting on their porch. I was told I was a moron; was asked if I was “for real”; was cursed with hopes that every package ever delivered to my house from then on was stolen by porch pirates.

Those of you familiar with this thing called the Internet won’t be surprised. Websites and social media apps are, at best, a well-manicured lawn above a sewer.

So-called “keyboard warriors” fill comments sections with unmitigated bile. Hatred, derision, scorn and personal attacks. This “flaming” is almost as disgusting as it is divisive, but not quite.

Flaming and flame wars drive away intelligent discourse. Why would anyone with a legitimate argument call-in an airstrike on themselves? Answer: they don’t.

People who decry flaming and flame wars blame Internet anonymity. Commentators wouldn’t vent their spleens with such violent disrespect if they had to use their real name!

Great landing, wrong airport. The websites/apps are to blame. Why don’t they enforce a no-flaming posting policy? You can almost hear their fancy algorithms’ reply: “I’m sorry Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

It’s all about the Benjamins. Advertisers are drawn to “engagement” like pigs to swill. Exactly like pigs to swill. 

To bank the big bucks, social media app owners fan flamers’ flames. Controversy → emotional reaction → user hang time → money. Like, share, save but above all, comment!

On the news side of things, same thing, only worse. Biased bosses hire over-educated zealots and cultists to appeal to under-educated zealots and cultists. It’s no wonder formerly dignified news orgs are now echo chambers from hell.

When I ran The Truth About Guns I instituted a strict no-flaming policy. If a commentator made a personal diss I’d terminate the rhetorical assault with extreme prejudice. If a flamer persisted, I’d ban them.

TTAG was a haven for the “armed intelligentsia.” Lawyers, doctors, mechanics, factory workers, enthusiasts from all walks of life exchanged insightful information and considered opinions in a “safe space.”

Readers came for the comments. Articles reflected and encouraged their participation; a positive feedback loop. Many of them were smarter and better informed than me. I learned so much.

The Truth About Everything continues that no flaming policy. Disrespectful comments will disappear in short order. It’s not a commercial consideration. It’s simply the right thing to do.

I wish all websites and apps would take a similar stance. A business built on bile does nothing to bring people together and everything to tear us apart.

Freedom of speech does not free us from a moral obligation to treat each other with respect. To do what we can to disarm the opposite. That is all.

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