Personal Computing — Flaming May Get You in a Hot Spot

February 1998
by Reid Goldsborough

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Rage, rage, rage! If you spend any amount of time at all in online discussion groups, particularly in unmoderated Usenet newsgroups, you’ve undoubtedly seen your share of explosive arguments.”Flamewars” are one of the most pervasive facts of life in online forums. Separated by space and often by time as well, people online are more likely than in person to let their hair down and lose all traces of civility. The rule of thumb seems to be: If you can’t say something nice about someone, say it in Usenet. You may have participated in a flamewar or two yourself, or been tempted to do so. What’s the harm? The reality is that you can indeed be hurt by firing off an ill-conceived insult, in both your personal life and your worklife. Even though the chances are remote of any of the following outcomes occurring, there’s still some risk here, a risk you should weigh when conducting yourself online.

You Could Be Threatened with a Lawsuit

Sure, such a suit will likely never make it to court. “Libel claims are notoriously difficult and expensive to prove,” says Blake A. Bell, a New York City attorney who’s writing a book on “cyberlaw.” But this doesn’t stop the threats. And if the person threatening to sue hires a lawyer, you may have to do the same, which could turn into an expensive proposition. Often what happens is that a lawyer will send a letter demanding a retraction in behalf of a client who feels that he or she has been libeled. People receiving these letters are sometimes…IBPA Members – Click here to view the full article (login required).

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