lurking

/ (ˈlɜːkɪŋ) /

adjective

lingering and persistent, though unsuspected or unacknowledgeda lurking suspicion
dimly perceiveda lurking shape half concealed in the shadows

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ABOUT THIS WORD

What is lurking?

Lurking is lying hidden or moving about secretly, as if to ambush someone. In internet culture, it specifically refers to browsing social media sites or forums without engaging with other users.

Where does lurking come from?

The verb lurk is an old one, dating back to the 1300s. Originally meaning “to hide” or “to lie hidden,” the term took on the additional sense of “to move about secretly” by the 1400s. Lurk got new life in the digital age, when people began lurking on early internet forums. This use is attested as early as 1983. 

Internet lurking involves visiting a site and browsing its content, but never posting or commenting oneself. The practice has been formally studied, in fact, since at least 2001. On the one hand, lurking has been shown to negatively impact one’s mental health and self-esteem. On the other hand, it can make socializing (at least passively) with online communities easier.

 

There was a spate of research and writing on lurking in 2015–16, much of which focused on Facebook, where many users feel that it is easy to fall down the rabbit hole of idly looking at many different profiles without creating content of their own.

The so-called “1% rule of the internet” says 90-99% of users on a website are lurkers. Some social media websites combat lurking, intentionally or not, with features that reveal who is watching their posts (as on Instagram) or who views their profile (LinkedIn).

How is lurking used in real life?

Gathering information and feeling out a website’s vibe are all reasons people lurk, and this form of the practice is generally referred to in a neutral or joking way. Online forums and social communities with niche interests tend to draw a lot of lurkers who don’t feel the need to contribute.

Lurking became especially used, however, in the 2010s in the context of poking around on the social media of an ex-partner or other romantic interests. (Insta-lurking is a related popular term, specific to Instagram) This is also called orbiting, and is generally looked upon as creepy.

Lurking has increasingly taken on a negative tone, implying one is being nosy or spying, like a digital form of eavesdropping.

More examples of lurking:

“A few weeks later, I send him and probably ten other people a Snapchat in which I’m wearing a sports bra and pants. I get a “Don’t you know I have a girlfriend?! This is totally inappropriate” message, and suddenly I’m blocked on all his socials. I’m guessing his girlfriend had seen him lurking and finally got fed up.”
—Beca Grim, The Cut, May 2018

Note

This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.

Example sentences from the Web for lurking