For me the key is to not participate in instantaneous online communication with people I don't know.
While I may be a newbie here, I have certainly participated in my share of online forums, and because of my abrupt and wandering style of discourse, mixed in with my warped sense of justice and fair play, I have participated in my share of those wars of cinders and ashes.
Given the chance to pause and consider what one is going to say will often times give them the opportunity to rethink and reword. For myself, I find my first response is very often not appropriate. Now, I *know* why I rant and act like an absolute idiot on occasion, have acknowledged it, and deal with it by *not* putting myself in the position to harm myself or others.
I think the reason why this forum ( as opposed to irc ) works well is because there is time to pause and consider.
Did someone already answer the question better than I could?
On IRC or in the chatterbox, there is a certain amount of pressure to post quickly, and hasty, opinionated ( we are opinionated here, aren't we? ) will tend to grate on the occasional nerve.
You might offer that usenet provides the same pause, but it lacks the persistance of this forum, and it definitely lacks the noise and confusion. One of the nicest parts of a forum like this is you can look at a person's other posts...determine whether or not they are held in regard, get a feel for their writing style ( which over the long term is as meaningful as body language ). What may appear to be a thoughtless or callous remark, or something you might interpret as snide or condescending may only be part of that person's style, no offense intended. I take the slant that most people are not really insulting until they get to know you...*g*.
The persistance and pause seem to keep the *heated* disaggreements to a minimum here, and at least for myself, give me an opportunity to partake in discourse without making a great and complete fool of myself.
And last but not least, the preview button gives you that second chance to be nice.