Is Lurking Here To Stay?

When is the last time you opened a text message, snaphat, or Facebook direct message or perhaps any other messaging service that involved the use of social media??

Are you familiar with any of these screens?


text message screen



Facebook Messenger

facebook messenger

Think about this for a minute, you may have your device right next to you as you multitask and read this blog post.. But, let’s pause. The use of social media and the sending and receiving of messages offers a user to lurk and/or participate. Lurking is defined by Webster Dictionary as, “To lie or wait in concealment, as a person in ambush; remain in or around a place secretly or furtively.” This term can be witnessed all across social media as a user who scrolls through their feed, catches up on the activity, but chooses not to comment, like or engage in anyway with other’s posts/reactions, etc. While this behavior is becoming more second nature and acting as an easy way for users to catch up on other’s lives, is it also becoming second nature for users to leave messages unread, unopened, or is it creating more of a craze for users to constantly check in on these platforms to see if their friends have read, opened, or even received their message?

A recent study cited in Net Smart even indicates, “People’s happiness is influenced by how happy their friends, neighbors, and coworkers are.” Is this another study, that’s showing our behaviors are similarly attributed to what our friends are portraying in their news feeds and could this be a stretch to link this to our own behavior, moods, and attitudes based on what’s read, kept and opened in our own messages?

What is Lurking?

Kushner refers to this idea that even though many have social media profiles and use the platforms consistently, not all of the users are participating, instead some are more or less monitoring the activity feeds. You can read more about this in Scott Kushner’s full article on, Read only: The persistence of lurking in Web 2.0.

What social networks mean to us?

Rheingold refers to social cyberspaces as, “Whether they emerge from email, blogs, hyperlinks, instant messages, or tweets – are small-world networks, because they are electronic extensions of human social networks.” Rheingold goes further and states the commonalities of social networks and the impact it has on each of us, as individual users. He says, “What we hold in common is a commitment to examining and examining whether we are fooling ourselves, or losing out on something vital through the way we use media.”


Taking all of what was said, interpreted, examined and re examined by the author, my perspective and social media today are these issues above contributing to what Rheingold refers to as the, “social dilemma.” The social dilemma is defined by Rheingold as the following, “Social dilemmas are the conflicts between self-interest and a collective action that all creatures face in daily life – situations in which a lack of trust in the potential cooperation of others prevents individuals from acting together in ways that would benefit everybody. Social dilemmas arise over the consumption and provision of resources.”

Are we contributing to a social dilemma in our society by using the term, “lurking” or is this something we can today classify as a fad, in which, will eventually fade away??


Rheingold, H. (2014) Net smart: How to thrive online(1sted.). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Posted on October 14, 2018, in Social Media. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Hey there,

    Great post this week offering quality insight. Upon reading your post title, I promptly responded “Yeah, most definitely” under my breath before proceeding to read the post itself.

    I like how you defined “lurking” by using studies from other sources. While this phenomenon is being studied and analyzed at an increasing rate, it’s something many of us social media advocates give minimal thought to. In other words, we don’t view lurking as a phenomenon, but merely as an inevitable component of social media.

    I also like your provided screenshots depicting ‘Read Receipts’. A few years back, when I first noticed these in the iPhone-iverse, I felt quite uneasy from both perspectives. When a recipient would show receipt of reading my message, I would angst if they didn’t respond within a minute, or at all. “They clearly saw my message! Why won’t they respond?” On the other end of the spectrum, when I would leave a receipt (sometimes by inadvertently opening a message), I would feel pressured to respond in a timely manner, so as to not come across as inconsiderate. Yes, I was clearly overthinking the process early on, something I have (thankfully) gotten past. Furthermore, in the iPhone-dustry (I’m an Apple guy, through and through), Read Receipts can be deactivated, though I cannot speak for other software platforms.

    Great post!


    • Hi Jeff,

      Thank you for your feedback on my post for this week. I’m glad that you enjoyed the definition I used for “lurking.” As I came across this definition in this week’s readings I really thought it was fitting towards a more complete understanding of how lurking can and does exist online and through the means of communication.

      I like your illustration and example you provide about read receipts. I had a similar experience with this towards the beginning with, “Oh, they read my response, but failed to answer,” or even thinking in my head, “Why haven’t they answered yet?” However, as time passed, I began to revert back to turning my read receipts on. I feel it’s very helpful if I am traveling somewhere, especially on an airplane, when I take off to send a message or even when I land to send a message. On the contrary, I personally enjoy receiving these messages and I am okay if they don’t answer, but having the sanity knowing that they landed or they are taking off and I was able to read the response is justification that everything went okay. I do understand that people can be busy, and even though they may read the message they may not be in a place at the time to respond, or could be limited if they are driving, but see the notification on their watch.. I guess there are so many ways in which a notification can be read in which it may be a form of assurance for the person sending the message that it was received.

      Great example and thanks again for your feedback.


  2. This post reminded me of an encounter I had with a friend the other day. We were talking on the phone for the first time in awhile and she started asking me if I was okay and telling me that she was worried about me. Puzzled, I told her I was fine and went on with the conversation. A few minutes later, she asked again and told me she was praying for me and was here if I needed any help. I finally asked her what on earth she was talking about! She told me she had been following my posts on Facebook and seeing that I had gotten a few tattoos and cursed a bit to a friend who made a political post. If you could have seen my face, I am sure the look was priceless. So, instead of calling me and talking to me about these things that she felt were “issues” in my life, she decided to Lurk and stalk my social media and pick apart responses to discussions that she was not even part of in order to form an opinion that I was going through something and needed help or prayers. Mind you, this is a friend who lives a stone’s throw from me and I see often.

    I see why the kids prefer Snapchat.


    • Hi Rebecca,

      Thank you for your feedback on my post this week, I appreciate it and also the example you provided is a great one that represents “lurking.” You are right in that when things that happen or are often posted on social media are not always the full picture of what is going on in one’s lives. Instead these are just short glimpses, moments, instances, or even serve as times of sharing information, updates, etc. that may have happened last week, last month or might even have just happened.

      I concur with you that Snapchat can is highly used among younger generations and while this snapchat probably offers some of the nuances of lurking, the time frame or duration is only 24 hours, so it gives the receiver or viewer a much shorter time frame of being able to capture what is going on in that person’s life.

      – Kim

  3. Kim,

    Great post and analysis on the use of the word “lurker.” I personally hate this word to describe someone who doesn’t participate in social media, but so it goes. To answer your question, I don’t believe lurking is a fad. I don’t think it’s entirely weird for users to not want to participate all the time when they are on the Internet too. However, if a user never participates on social media, I do have to wonder why they are on it in the first place.

    I was actually talking to a friend about how I felt bad that I hadn’t responded to an old acquaintance on social media (I had forgotten). She said something interesting to me that I’m not sure I agree with but will share regardless. She said that I shouldn’t feel bad about not responding to people on social media. She said the Internet is the one place where we have the privilege to no respond if we don’t want to. If it was in public and I chose to ignore someone, that’d be rude. But on the Internet, she feels we have the privilege to ignore.

    What do you think about this? Are we allowed to not participate when it comes to online social exchanges? It doesn’t bother me as much to ignore comments in forums, but if a friend messages me on Facebook that’s a different circumstance.

    • Hi Jeffrey,

      I think you bring up a valid point about a user being on a participatory culture such as social media and not or rarely participating as a question of why are they even on the platform? I guess one thing to counter your question is maybe using this as a notification service for special groups/interests or even as a calendar to see when someone’s birthday is, etc. I’m not sure it’s exactly used for these purposes and while the counter answer to your question may be possible I’m not sure how strong of a response this is to your question. I do agree with you though on the question you raised.

      I really liked the example you provide about the option of choosing to respond online versus real life. I totally agree with you about being rude in person. I wonder what others think about this and if there is more research about the correlation of etiquette offered online versus in person. I often times see people engaging in a face to face conversation, and individuals are still checking in on their phones or sending messages, reading email, etc. What are your thoughts on if this is rude or not? Do you think in certain settings this behavior is okay, not acceptable, etc.?

      I agree about participating in social networks and I feel if it’s a friend and you did miss the chance to respond to them on social media it may be necessary to reach out on your phone to call or text that individual and respond in this manner.

      – Kim

  4. I love your blog this week! And lurking is such a tricky line… I love being able to be a silent observer on Facebook. I get to know what’s going on but I don’t have to put. myself out there so much. I wouldn’t say my intention is to be lurky or stalker-like but I bet it could come off that way. A guy I dated briefly, a long time ago follows me on Instagram and it makes me furious when I see that he viewed my story. Why? Because I view it as him lurking in my business secretly, because I won’t include him in my actual life.

    I love what your friend said about the Internet being a place where we have the privilege not to respond. My mom and I were talking similarly about that in relation to text messages today. Taking four courses this semester has made me retreat from any unnecessary social interaction and my friends and neighbors are so in my “face” on social media and by text because I am not getting back to them. They know I’m busy but the technology seems to give people the idea that they can overstep boundaries. With all the technology, it seems more important to hold your boundaries and demand that people respect them.

    Great blog!


    • Hi Jennifer,

      I agree that lurking is tricky as well.. It seems almost awkward and routine even when you may not be trying to lurk. I think of the following example, when I open up one of my social media networks I often look at the first thing before doing what I need to do on the platform. I don’t always engage in what I see as the first thing on my news feed, but this item, post, content, etc. is automatically seen when I open the app, website, platform..

      I agree that technology can also afford users the opportunity to overstep their boundaries. I completely agree with you that the affordances of seeing when someone is active, online, etc. doesn’t always mean they have the time to engage, etc.

      I thoroughly enjoyed your response and have some common ground with you in terms of reverting and spending less time on social media when life is being consumed with other things like school, work, etc.

      – Kim

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