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Lurking

Reviewed by Kuntal ChakrabortyCheckmark | Last updated: May 28, 2021

What Does Lurking Mean?

Lurking is the reading or viewing of an online community without posting or engaging with the community. A person lurking on an online community such as a message board, social media platform or forum, is known as a “lurker.”

One of the most common reasons for lurking is simply that the user is getting acquainted with a site and wants more familiarity before trying to add input. Lurking may even be encouraged by forum moderators as a way for new members to get a sense of the community and etiquette before participating. It is important to note that the existence of read/write web structures is relatively new, and many users feel more comfortable “lurking” for a while before posting.

In the age of social media, other reasons to lurk have emerged. One is the evaluation of a particularly heated social media thread, where conflict may have been initiated by trolling, flaming or the actions of “keyboard warriors.” Many users hesitate to wade in or compromise their neutrality by posting, but are drawn to the conflict, lurking on the sidelines. The lurker may even use the information collected in some other media like a phone call, blog post or discussion on the street, rather than post in the actual social media thread in question.

Another modern reason to lurk involves fundamental social media privacy. Cases of individuals being “doxxed” (publicly identified against their will), fired or retaliated against due to public postings are widespread, and many users want to protect themselves by simply viewing a social media sector without posting or revealing their presence.

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Techopedia Explains Lurking

Generally, lurking activity on social media is not considered offensive or corrosive to personal relationships in the same way as more active interactions like flaming and trolling. In many cases, especially on Facebook and Twitter, lurking is seen as the polite thing to do, especially in situations where conflict has already arisen (as mentioned above). The polarization of social media into political camps exacerbates this incentive to lurk.

However, some suggest that lurking could hamper accurate estimates of the reach of a piece of social media content. In an age where experts and others are trying to identify the sources and the extent of misinformation on social media, having a better idea of the active audience is often desired. That same social media polarization and the emergence of competing narratives has big tech companies looking for ways to enforce true speech without impeding free speech, and knowing the audience might be useful.

Some forms of lurking have also led to privacy concerns, for instance, where Facebook has given users more tools to block profile elements from the public, or even from their friend lists. Social media makers have given users the tools to lurk, so that they can feel safe on the internet.

In a sense, lurking is “normal” social media activity. It is only human nature to go through Facebook or some other platform and find information on individuals whom one is curious about. Many users would prefer to be able to do this without leaving a mark or evidence of their research: For these reasons, and all of the reasons already mentioned, lurking is a widespread behavior on the web.

There are different “flavors” of lurking as well, such as social media lurking, forum lurking or photo lurking — although, ironically, photo lurking inverts the meaning: In this case, the lurker appears unexpectedly in the background of a photo.

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