Sealioning (also spelled sea-lioning and sea lioning) is a type of trolling or harassment that consists of pursuing people with persistent requests for evidence or repeated questions, while maintaining a pretense of civility and sincerity. It may take the form of "incessant, bad-faith invitations to engage in debate".
The troll feigns ignorance and politeness, so that if the target is provoked into making an angry response, the troll can then act as the aggrieved party. Sealioning can be performed by a single troll or by multiple ones acting in concert. The technique of sealioning has been compared to the Gish gallop and metaphorically described as a denial-of-service attack targeted at human beings.
Rhetorically, sealioning fuses persistent questioning—often about basic information, information easily found elsewhere, or unrelated or tangential points—with a loudly-insisted-upon commitment to reasonable debate. It disguises itself as a sincere attempt to learn and communicate. Sealioning thus works both to exhaust a target's patience, attention, and communicative effort, and to portray the target as unreasonable. While the questions of the "sea lion" may seem innocent, they're intended maliciously and have harmful consequences.
Sealioning can be effective at disrupting regular conversation in an online community and create polarization. At times, a troll asks suggestive or misleading questions to lead the target to spend their energy in providing lengthy explanations.
Origins and historyEdit
The term originated with a 2014 strip of the webcomic Wondermark by David Malki, where a character expresses a dislike of sea lions and a sea lion intrudes to repeatedly ask her to explain her statement and attempting (in an exaggeratedly civil manner) to interrogate her views, following the characters into the privacy of their own home. "Sea lion" was quickly verbed. The term gained popularity as a way to describe online trolling, and it was used to describe some of the behavior of those participating in the Gamergate controversy.
In a 2016 study published in First Monday focusing on users of the controversial Gamergate subreddit /r/KotakuInAction, participants were surveyed about what they believed constituted "harassment". Participants were quoted claiming that "expressions of sincere disagreement" were considered harassment by opponents of the forum and that the term was used to silence legitimate requests for proof.
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Consider a website that seeks to provide a venue for productive conversations among those who own and love cats. Their conversations are likely to be undermined by those who want to foster a preference for dogs (haters), as well as those who simply enjoy undermining conversations for its own sake (trolls). They can expect these haters and trolls to raise faulty arguments about the evils of cats faster than they can be rebutted (the Gish Gallop); to pretend sincerity in asking repeatedly for evidence on the benefits of cats (sealioning)...
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For supporters [of Gamergate], however, the hashtag became an effective way to swarm the mentions of users perceived as not sharing their views, which became known colloquially as 'sea lioning' (Malki, 2014).
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