Chances are you've seen this comic by David Malki if you frequent Twitter at all these days. It even coined a new verb - "sealioning" - to describe the act of jumping into a discussion with demands for evidence and answers to questions.
But why is it an awful thing to do? Why do people react so negatively to a request for evidence? Surely a reasoned, rational person would acquiesce to such a statement!
Well, no. And here's why.
The biggest reason why people hate sealioning is because responding to it is a complete waste of time.
It's an insidious trap. Responding to questions asked reasonably is, of course, a natural thing for people to do. I like to do it myself; educating others is generally pretty entertaining, especially if they are receptive to learning. Dismissing those questions can appear condescending or rude, especially if you actually are condescending or rude.
Of course, these questions are not asked because the person genuinely wants to know. If they did, they would do their own digging based on your statements, and only ask for obscure or difficult-to-discover information. This is the "debate principle"; when you go to a debate, you educate yourself on the topics at hand, and only request evidence when a claim is either quite outlandish or unflinchingly obscure.
No, these questions are asked to make you waste your time. It works, too; I've responded to sealions before, answering all their questions and claims for evidence, only to be greeted by even more willful ignorance. It's a way to force you into responding to questions phrased neutrally but asked in bad faith.
Asking in Bad Faith
So what does asking in bad faith mean?
When you ask a question in bad faith, you are essentially looking for a way to demean, degrade, or otherwise destroy your target. A good example of an obviously bad faith question is the perennial favorite "When did you stop beating your wife?" as it instantly casts doubt upon the person asked the question.
However, it's easy to ask a question in bad faith using reasoned, good faith practices. Neutral phrasing does not always guarantee a question is asked in good faith. This is extremely obvious in documented sealioning; the target responds, only for the questioner to immediately grill them for more information, misinterpret the answer, or dismiss it entirely.
The purpose of sealioning never to actually learn or become more informed. The purpose is to interrogate. Much like actual interrogators, sealioners bombard the target with question after question, digging and digging until the target either says something stupid or is so pissed off that they react in the extreme.
Load The Question Cannons
All of this, of course, relies on asking a lot of questions, often with little-to-no downtime between volleys.
When the target is continually asked questions - especially the same question under a different phrasing, which is very common when sealioning - it's rattling. They have to fight the natural instinct to respond in good faith to neutrally-phrased questions, as answering them will only bring more. It's a forced violation of the empathy that a compassionate person feels towards others, as it pushes them into noticing that their questioners are not particularly interested in the questions themselves.
Compound this with being sealioned but multiple people, as is common on Twitter, and you've got a recipe for a very frustrating and fruitless timeline. If you respond, you are bombarded with even more questions by people who aren't asking to actually be convinced. If you do not respond, you are insulted as somebody who doesn't wish to participate in reasoned discourse, despite the clear and simple fact that such a discourse is not reasonable; it merely has the appearance of rationality.
Being sealioned is a lose/lose situation, unfortunately. Much like Global Thermonuclear War, the only winning move is not to play. In this case, block or dismiss sealioners and go about your normal business, letting them vent their frustrations out where you can't see them. It's much healthier for your psyche.
It's unfortunate that we must be suspicious of purportedly honest and neutral questions. Asking questions and being open is key to establishing dialogue and understanding one another. When you are the target of a sealion brigade, though, the purpose is to get you to waste your time responding to every little complaint, and falsely-amiable questions are the easiest way to get you to waste it.
So don't. Spend it doing more constructive activities, like making a game, talking to others genuinely interested in dialogue, or any form of self-care. You owe nothing - especially not answers - to a mob whose intent is to harass you.
For a further deconstruction of how to recognize sealioning, as well as avoid looking like a sealion, read the companion piece Recognizing Sealioning.
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