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GIVEN INCESSANT DEBATES of late, it’s likely that you have encountered sealioning, described by Merriam-Webster as “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,” M-W continues, “sealioning involved asking for evidence for even basic claims. The term comes from a web comic depicting a sea lion engaging in such behavior.”
Amplification. Here are other insights on sealioning offered by M-W.
Anita Sarkeesian is cited having written in Marie Claire, February 20, 2015, “Sealioning is when an uninvited stranger pops into your conversation and peppers you with unsolicited and insincere questions…. The sealion is basically the self-appointed ‘good cop’ in an interrogation for a crime you didn’t commit.”
M-W also offers Amy Johnson’s Perspective on Harmful Speech Online, August 2017: “Even when sealioning is recognized, responding suitably can be difficult. There are no clear norms for handling it—advice tends to simply suggest ‘Don’t feed the troll.’ While this may allow an individual to navigate the moment, it doesn’t address broader effects on trust and learning.”
A Comic Etymology. M-W says, “The origin of the term sealioning is traced to a webcomic called Wandermark by David Malki. In a strip called ‘The Terrible Sea Lion,’ which was published on September 19, 2014, a character expresses a strong dislike for sea lions, only for a sea lion to appear suddenly and pursue the character relentlessly—to the point of following her and her partner into her bedroom—insisting that she justify her beliefs.”
Can One Sealion Oneself? A possible example that comes to mind is President Bill Clinton’s response with regard to Monica Lewinsky, after he told PBS’s Jim Lehrer shortly after the story broke, “There is no improper relationship.”
Later, did Clinton sealion himself with the following? “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is. If the—if he—if ‘is’ means is and never has been, that is not—that is one thing. If it means there is none, that was a completely true statement. … Now, if someone had asked me on that day, are you having any kind of sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky, that is, asked me a question in the present tense, I would have said no. And it would have been completely true.”
Timothy Noah wrote in slate.com, September 13, 1998, “Bill Clinton really is a guy who’s willing to think carefully about what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is. This is way beyond slick. Perhaps we should start calling him, ‘Existential Willie.’
Was Clinton being philosophical or merely barking?
Maybe you’d share examples of sealioning you recall. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2021