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We’ve all dealt with him. Or her. With Sea Lions, it’s hard to tell. Sea Lions in Edwardian print quality, at any rate. Must be seven, (eight?!) dots per inch there. Or do’pence by yar-farthings.
I had seen this years ago, but could not recall it when trying to describe the sensation that not all polite questions are polite, and that in fact sometimes, well… let’s just let Wikipedia take it from here. For which I will take it from there (the whole next section, between the horizontal lines is from Wikipedia):
Sealioning … 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.
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. [emphasis above added by BDB]
— Amy Johnson, Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society (May 2019)
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”:
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.
I mean who hasn’t spotted the creature? Some of us have the whole collection. We’ve caught them all!
I’m not groovy with the “harmful” rhetoric. If any kind of rhetoric has “harmful consequences”, it’s claiming that words hurt and must be restricted for the good of those who cannot bear such words. Sigh. But while the above quotes may milk the drama, it’s a real problem. Since we here are gathered at a website, then most of us would have as handy examples our own recollections from here. But this site doesn’t cause or even encourage this sealioning. Our examples would look like here because that’s where we are. In my opinion it used to drive that behavior, but thank Heaven things have changed.
Oh, back in the day I used to get in hot water around here for calling the Sealions out for their “disingenuous questions under the guise of sincerity”, which is anathema to our more-or-less required assumption that each person here is conversing in good faith. Now, however, as opposed to then, there is little or no stomach for sea-lawyering the rules into requiring that every utterance be treated as if spoken by a newborn angel of logic. Nope, sometimes, people just suck, and TPTB seem pretty content to let grown-ups handle it amongst the grown-ups. As I said, a marked change from the school-marmish cloying sniffy disdain that used to come from a minority of TPTB, and a hefty slice of membership.
Good Times! I’ve said this here and there, but TPTB have struck the right balance somehow. Whatever that is that you’re doing? Keep doing that.
So the next time you feel like complaining about something here — and I may join you, or, uh, complain about you — cast your mind back to a time just before Trump, when all we had was gay marriage and the 2.5 rollout to beat each other with. Heck — we’re spoiled for choice now!Published in