Sealioning is a specific form of trolling in online forums, social media and comment columns. The idea is usually to get the person opposite to react in a way that derails the discussion, while the „troll“ himself can claim not to have actually broken any rules. It is one of many rhetorical tactics that have become popular in recent years to destroy discourse in online media, or at least to disrupt it to the point where serious commentators have no interest in participating and narratives can be shifted in this way.
What exactly is sealioning characterized by? Meaning, definition, explanation
The typical „Sealion“ is also superficially considered as the nice troll. Perhaps there is a diffuse feeling in a discussion partner, but he does not act in the same way as typical trolls from the Internet. On the contrary, classically he will meet you with explicit and emphasized politeness and will not descend to typical insults or „flame wars“. In this case, however, this is just another of many popular forms of discourse shifting that have become increasingly noticeable in Internet discussions in recent years.
The examples of sea-lioning are mainly found in elaborate discussions. This involves the very common question of a source in the discussion. The „sealion“ will pretend to be someone who has little knowledge on the subject and is looking for ways to get better information. At least that’s the starting point, which of course is not reality. Instead, a troll comes into a discussion with sealioning in a firm attempt to shift the discourse in a particular direction or to discredit the interlocutor.
Roughly speaking, the goal is to exhaust a discussion partner’s patience by asking over and over again, thus either forcing the other person to leave the discussion, or even getting them to behave in a reportable manner within the rulebook. A popular version is the constant demand for „sources“. Thus, the Sea Lion will pretend to be quite accepting of the other person’s information – but only if that person can also produce appropriate sources from supposedly independent media. This behavior will be repeated in every argument.
An exaggerated example would be a discussion about the color of the sky. The participant in the discussion says in a subordinate clause that the sky is blue, while it is actually about a completely different topic. The troll using sealioning will demand a source for the sky being blue. This game will repeat itself with basic truths and statements from so-called „common sense“ until the other person drops out or becomes abusive. The goal is reached – the discussion partner is either no longer interested in further conversation or even receives warnings or a ban for being abusive.
The origin story of „Sealioning“
The fact that this form of „trolling“ has become established as „sealioning“ can be traced back primarily to a comic that was published in 2014. In this comic, a person made disparaging remarks about sea lions, only to be followed shortly thereafter by a sea lion who would like sources. Sources for the reasons for the rejection, sources for the fact that sea lions would ever have done anything bad and drive the character to give up from exhaustion. In this way, it clarified a phenomenon that was increasingly noticeable in online discussions during this period. The comic’s crowning achievement was the sea lion that showed up in the character’s bedroom and continued to demand that the character back up his personal dislikes with sources – thus either overruling or revising his own opinion or foregoing further discussion.
The use of sea-lioning in practice
The problem with sealioning is often that it does not appear to outsiders that the person is really trying to act as a troll. In general, asking for evidence or sources is a normality, especially in discussions on the Internet, and should help to ensure that all discussion partners can argue on the same level of knowledge. It is therefore not always easy to distinguish between an active attempt at troll activity and a participant in the discussion actually wanting to find out more about a chosen topic or to read up on a general piece of information based on a factual source.
It is difficult for moderators to distinguish whether the discussion is organic or one of the participants is acting in the so-called „bad faith“. Usually, a „Sealion“ can only be identified by the fact that he or she displays the same pattern of leading discussions in different topics and rarely contributes active knowledge or a principle to the discussion himself or herself. Instead, the only goal of the „Sealion“ seems to be to derail the relevant discussion and prevent the topic from being discussed in depth.
Active measures against sealioning in discussions on the Internet
As is so often the case with trolls on the Internet, there are few ways to respond to them in a constructive manner. As a rule, discussion behavior on the other side is designed to ensure that a discussion partner will always lose in active dialog. The discussion exhausts itself on the behavior of the troll and will thus lead to the fact that the partner who did not act in bad-faith is not interested in further discussion.
In the end, the only option is to ignore the person in question. This can happen in the form of a block or by dropping out of the discussion. Even if the impulse is naturally there to always write another reply, one should not get involved in „feeding“ the troll as well. A reference to the block list is just as appropriate here as a report to the moderators and an indication that the discussion partner is not acting in good faith. Under no circumstances should one violate the rules of a discussion platform oneself – this would give the troll a double satisfaction and exclude oneself from the discourse.