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Flaming is the act of sending or posting messages that are deliberately hostile and insulting, usually in the social context of a discussion board on the Internet. Such messages are called flames, and are sometimes posted in response to flamebait. Flaming is said by some to be one of a class of economic problems known as The Tragedy of the Commons, when a group holds a resource (in this case, communal attention), but each of the individual members has an incentive to overuse it.
A flame war is a series of flaming messages in electronic discussion groups such as usenet, mailing lists or internet forums. There are a number of characteristics of electronic communication which have been cited as being conducive to flame wars. Electronic communications do not easily transmit facial expressions or voice intonations which may serve to moderate the tone of a message. (However, some users may add on smileys (e.g. ;) ) to lessen the sting of a negative post, or to clarify the meaning behind a post.) Also, there is typically a lag time between the time a message is transmitted and the time a reply is read. These two characteristics can cause a "positive feedback loop" in which the emotional intensity of an electronic exchange increases to extremely high levels. Many times, the intent of a message is misunderstood, causing an unintentional flame war. These tend to escalate and worsen very quickly, sometimes causing the topic in which the reply is submitted to be closed, or "locked."