On the Internet, “hidden” is not as disturbing as it seems. Here’s what that word means online and why you’re probably a stalker, even if you don’t know it.
What is “Lurking?”
On the Internet, “prowling” is being in an interactive community, such as a group chat or forum, but not directly participating or engaging. Lurking is essentially the passive observation of a public conversation. People who do this on the internet are often called “lurkers”.
While the word itself tends to have negative connotations in English, “prowling” online isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It may simply mean that a person is not yet ready to contribute to a forum and prefers to continue browsing other people’s posts.
The story of the hiding place
“Lurkers” have been around on the Internet for almost as long as Internet forums, IRC newsgroups, and message boards. This became particularly clear when message boards began to implement live active user lists and “Current View” features on every forum thread. The first definition of “lurker” on Urban Dictionary dates back to 2003 and reads: “someone who follows the forum but does not post”. Entries for “lurking” and “lurk” appeared around the same time.
While lurkers are still primarily a thing in traditional internet communities like forums and subreddits, they are increasingly being used in other contexts. For example, someone who doesn’t message in a group chat but reads all the texts can be considered a lurker. Likewise, someone who watches a lot of Instagram stories but never posts could be a stalker.
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Long time, first time
While many users in a community just hide, sometimes a lurker turns into a poster. A common practice among rangers posting for the first time is to identify themselves as a ranger and begin the post by saying “long time ranger, first time posting” or something similar. This is done as an “introduction” to the larger group and perhaps a request not to be so harsh or critical of the content of the post.
This phrase comes from a similar saying in talk radio shows where listeners call in with stories, problems, or talking points. Callers would often say “long time listener, first time caller” as an introduction. It works as both a way to eliminate nervousness and signal to the host that they are a fan of the show. This same slogan has also been adopted in other media and groups, with variations such as “longtime fan”, “longtime viewer”, and now, “longtime prowler”.
However, the term prowling no longer only applies to online communities. It has been adopted to refer to anyone who is in an online space but does not speak. For example, if one of your co-workers is actively browsing the company Slack channel but remains silent, you might say they are hiding. The same goes with Discord, Microsoft Teams or other mass communication apps.
This is especially true for group chats with read receipts or a “seen” counter. If you and your friends are all in a messaging app and you’re just reading their messages without replying, you’ll probably look like the “prowler” of a group.
You might even call yourself a lurker on a website that doesn’t have a crowd-sourced aspect. For example, if you are browsing an online store without buying anything, you might say that you are hiding on the website. If you browse social media for hours, but don’t message or post anything, you may also consider yourself a stalker.
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There are various reasons why a user may prefer to hide instead of participate. First, a ranger may enjoy reading more than posting. It takes a lot more effort to join chats and be an active member, while hiding is just another type of content consumption.
Another is that the community could potentially be hostile to newbies and newcomers. If a ranger doesn’t feel comfortable joining the conversation, they may need more time to acclimate to the environment before they start posting. Finally, they may not have thought of something unique to post yet. So the next time you see “First time posting” on a Reddit post, try to be nice to whoever is posting it.
Ultimately, most people hide on most websites. There are more people consuming content than they create, so there’s no shame in hiding. Hide !
If you want to learn more about other Internet slang terms used in online communities, check out our articles on ITT and OP.
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