Why I Flame

Confessions of a Corporate Hatchet Man

In the wilds of Usenet, corporate flaming exists, even though the corporations attached to the newsgroup don't control the venue. The corporate heads of White Wolf Publishing, which makes role-playing games, can't banish their testy fans, but employees and freelancers can wage flame wars and protect the corporate image. After several people complained about a recent rewrite of a game, longtime White Wolf writer Deird'Re M. Brooks singled out a customer and flamed him on alt.games.whitewolf. She mocked the guy, saying he'd made it his "life's mission to tell us all how evil" the new rules and story line were. Brooks dismissed his complaints as "egotistical" and "worthless." She tried to make the fan sound hysterical, saying he wanted the game's latest edition "EXPUNGED FROM THE EARTH." Brooks, who didn't return Voice e-mails, wasn't speaking as a corporate representative, but she was clearly expressing a sentiment shared by her superiors.

Public relations used to mean dealing with a distant consumer base as a mass. Now it means dealing with individuals, some of whom will be downright vicious. Recitations of press releases won't do it anymore. Corporations are very protective of their public images, and many have already unleashed their watchdogs to prowl the Web, looking for anticorporate flames to snuff out. Professional flamers will only become more common. We were here before you were, when ".edu" and ".gov" anchored most e-mail addresses, and when the Web was but a dream.

Bloody Q-Tips and anonymous cyberbombs: professional flamer Nick Mamatas
photo: Pak Fung Wong
Bloody Q-Tips and anonymous cyberbombs: professional flamer Nick Mamatas

You're going to need us socially crippled flamers. We'll spread like brush fires. As Dostoyevsky might say today, we are developing a taste for it. Soon we shall contrive to be born somehow from an idea, an idea that needs to be beaten into the heads of every one of you. But enough; I don't want to write more from the underground.

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