This New York Times story on the psychopathology of flame wars has -- surprise! -- generated much heated discussion around the internet:
John Suler, a psychologist at Rider University in Lawrenceville, N.J., suggested that several psychological factors lead to online disinhibition: the anonymity of a Web pseudonym; invisibility to others; the time lag between sending an e-mail message and getting feedback; the exaggerated sense of self from being alone; and the lack of any online authority figure. Dr. Suler notes that disinhibition can be either benign — when a shy person feels free to open up online — or toxic, as in flaming.
Over on Metafilter, user scblackman rounds up links to some related web references:
What's behind those flaming hot e-mails or UseNet flame wars or MetaFilter comments?. Perhaps, as John Suler suggested, there are a number of factors, including dissociative anonymity, invisibility, asynchronicity, solipsistic introjection (altered self-boundaries), dissociative imagination, and minimzation of authority, as he discussed in his fascinating 2004 paper.
Link to that MeFi thread, in which several commenters said the NYT article reminded them of the timeless comic above.
(Via Boing Boing.)