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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.[1][2][3][4] It may take the form of "incessant, bad-faith invitations to engage in debate".[5] The term originated with a 2014 strip of the webcomic Wondermark by David Malki.[6]


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.[7][8] Sealioning can be performed by a single person or by a group acting in concert.[9] The technique of sealioning has been compared to the Gish gallop and metaphorically described as a denial-of-service attack targeted at human beings.[10]

An essay in the collection Perspectives on Harmful Speech Online, published by the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard, noted:

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.

In December 2020, the Merriam-Webster online dictionary listed the term as "Words We're Watching", being "words we are increasingly seeing in use but that have not yet met our criteria for entry":[6]

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.[6]

Origins and history[edit]

The term originated with a 2014 strip of the webcomic Wondermark by David Malki,[11] 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.[12] "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.[13][14]

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.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Poland, Bailey (November 2016). Haters: Harassment, Abuse, and Violence Online. University of Nebraska Press. pp. 144–145. ISBN 978-1-61234-766-0. Archived from the original on 4 November 2019. Retrieved 10 January 2018.
  2. ^ Sarkeesian, Anita (20 February 2015). "Anita Sarkeesian's Guide to Internetting While Female". Marie Claire. Archived from the original on 2 August 2019. Retrieved 2 August 2019.
  3. ^ Chandler, Daniel; Munday, Rod (3 March 2016). A Dictionary of Social Media. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780192518521. OCLC 952388585. Archived from the original on 19 September 2018. Retrieved 18 September 2018.
  4. ^ Bloomfield, Robert (2018). "The LAAPs that foster productive conversations and the crebit that undermines them". Accounting, Organizations and Society. 68–69: 125–142. doi:10.1016/j.aos.2018.06.004. S2CID 158687510. 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)...
  5. ^ Sullivan, Emily; Sondag, Max; Rutter, Ignaz; Meulemans, Wouter; Cunningham, Scott; Speckmann, Bettina; Alfano, Mark. "Can Real Social Epistemic Networks Deliver the Wisdom of Crowds?" (pdf). p. 21. Archived from the original on 28 January 2019. Retrieved 28 January 2019 – via The PhilPapers Foundation.
  6. ^ a b c "What is 'Sealioning?'". Merriam-Webster Online. December 2020. Retrieved 1 January 2021.
  7. ^ Lindsay, Jessica (5 July 2018). "Sealioning is the new thing to worry about in relationships and online". Metro. Archived from the original on 31 August 2018. Retrieved 13 September 2018.
  8. ^ Stokel-Walker, Chris (18 August 2018). "How to handle a troll ... and neuter a sea lion". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 10 January 2019. Retrieved 13 September 2018.
  9. ^ Shepherd, J. Marshall (17 March 2019). "'Sealioning' Is A Common Trolling Tactic On Social Media—What Is It?". Forbes. Archived from the original on 16 June 2019. Retrieved 16 June 2019.
  10. ^ a b Johnson, Amy (2017). Gasser, Urs (ed.). "The Multiple Harms of Sea Lions" (PDF). Perspectives on Harmful Speech Online. Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society. p. 14. Archived (PDF) from the original on 25 September 2018. Retrieved 16 September 2018.
  11. ^ "Wondermark #1062". 19 September 2014. Archived from the original on 8 June 2019. Retrieved 3 March 2019.
  12. ^ Maxwell, Kerry (6 October 2015). "Definition of Sea lion". Macmillan Dictionary. Archived from the original on 11 January 2018. Retrieved 10 January 2018.
  13. ^ Jhaver, Shagun; Ghoshal, Sucheta; Bruckman, Amy; Gilbert, Eric. "Online Harassment and Content Moderation: The Case of Blocklists". ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction. 25 (2): 12. doi:10.1145/3185593. S2CID 4315029.
  14. ^ Massanari, Adrienne L. (2016). "'Damseling for Dollars': Toxic Technocultures and Geek Masculinity". In Lind, Rebecca Ann (ed.). Race and Gender in Electronic Media: Content, Context, Culture. Routledge. ISBN 9781317266129. OCLC 948090024. 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).
  15. ^ 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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