Online forums are chaotic places where sensible debate can quickly turn into digital mud-slinging. With anonymity and distance as protection, all too often people are willing to rush into a flame war. The object of a flame war is to attack someone with insults and wit where physical confrontation is impossible. There is an old saying on the Internet: The only way to win a flame war is to never enter into one. Flame wars serve no purpose and are easily forgotten, but sometimes you cannot resist entering the fray. Walk in prepared and victory will be assured.
How to Win a Flame War
Insult your opponent. The winner of a flame war is determined by observers -- the other people in the forum. Your goal is to play to the crowd. Flame wars begin when egos collide and one side starts hurling insults at the other. Your opening salvo should be general insults about personal taste and intelligence. Such insults are easy to shrug off, but it lets your opponent and the other forum participants know that you are prepared for battle.
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Stay on topic. Even if your opponent trails off from the subject, never let him forget. The difference between trash-talking and flame wars is purpose. Remember what originally started the war and stand your ground. Shooting off into tangents signifies a loss of control and the crowd will assume that you are confused. Staying on topic also keeps moderators at bay who are likely to lock a thread if it spins too far out of control.
Pay attention to everything your opponent posts. Leaving challenges unanswered is a sign of weakness, and repeating insults is likened to admitting defeat. While flame wars are soon forgotten, the crowd tends to remember old tactics and phrases. Copying someone else is a sure way of losing favor. If you find yourself completely lost, read over the thread and post again when you have a handle on the situation.
Reply in complete sentences and double-check your spelling. Stiff writing bores the crowd and gives your opponent a target to attack, but you must always be coherent. Forums are littered with run-on sentences, fragments and spelling equated to mashing the keyboard. Do not add to the mess. The crowd appreciates clarity, and tight writing exhibits intelligence and emotional control. If you do make a mistake, your opponent will be quick to point it out. Do not be discouraged or reply to the correction. The crowd will recognize the cheap shot and punish your opponent for deviating from the point. However, frequent lapses in writing ability will not impress the crowd.
Allow the crowd to finish off your opponent. Flame wars are not decided by the participants. When you notice the entire thread turning on your opponent, it is time to step back and allow them to drive your opponent out. Pressing your advantage too forcefully could just as easily turn the crowd against you as well, resulting in a no-contest at best. If your opponent admits defeat, accept and move on. Seize victory when it is presented.