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 term originated with a 2014 strip of the webcomic Wondermark by David Malki.
The sealioner feigns ignorance and politeness, so that if the target is provoked into making an angry response, the sealioner can then act as the aggrieved party. Sealioning can be performed by a single person or by a group 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.
What to know: Sealioning is a harassment tactic by which a participant in a debate or online discussion pesters the other participant with disingenuous questions under the guise of sincerity, hoping to erode the patience or goodwill of the target to the point where they appear unreasonable. Often, sealioning involved asking for evidence for even basic claims.
Origins and history
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 attempts (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 Gamergate subreddit /r/KotakuInAction, participants were surveyed about what they believed constituted "harassment". Participants were quoted stating 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.
- Argumentum ad nauseam—a more general term for an argument that has continued past the point of value
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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).
- Jhaver, Shagun; Chan, Larry; Bruckman, Amy (5 February 2018). "The view from the other side: The border between controversial speech and harassment on Kotaku in Action". First Monday. 23 (2). arXiv:1712.05851. doi:10.5210/fm.v23i2.8232. S2CID 3653593. Archived from the original on 21 March 2019. Retrieved 21 March 2019.
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