‘net Speak 101

Yak-baiting and the Problem of Being Online

A sophisticated internet surfer recognizes slang, because successful navigation spaces requires the knowledge captured in slang.

As the internet and its reverberations bleed into every day speech, so we see how important online life has become, as online life and daily life become extensions of each other.

Knowledge of these new kinds of interactions enables people who’ve already digested these kinds of situations to make more appropriate responses.

This first section provides a very simple taxonomy of internet-speak. The last section introduces a piece of slang as knowledge.

Online Terms

Slang and being online seem to go hand in hand. Yet slang comes about because it communicates a unique intent given the internet.

Action words

Terms like LOL, AFK, BRB, WTF, OMG and LMAO are from web 1.0, when AOL-speak ruled.

There are also words specific to certain contexts, like gaming: clutch, camping.

Newer terms came out with memes and early social media. These terms aren’t actions (like the AOL terms) which reference possible IRL behavior. Rather these terms suggest to users how they should understand the content in question. These words include hashtag, like, DM, imho, and lolcats.

Status words

What’s central to the internet is that there is a lack of presence. People come and go easily. The internet’s very nature, however, involves keeping a log. To capture context for new comers, jargon developed. These include terms like: wrecked, roasted, owned, fail, squadgoals, yolo, and bae.

Nonetheless, these terms are relatively straightforward, in that they express a status of something/someone rather than pointing out a situation that needs to be addressed.

Situation words

Situational terms tell us something about what is expected of us. This is often a warning. These terms include trolling, virtue signaling, click-bait, phishing, triggered, nsfw, and spamming.

With this last group, we start to get deeper knowledge about what people are doing, how that effects us and that we may need to do in response.

The internet is pretty much completely social. The main variety of online content consists of a monstrous show-and-tell which is up for comment. The nature of comment history and the ease of non-local access creates a topography that is both permanent and vaporous. This strange virtual “place” allows users to question any assumed meaning since users may arrive from anywhere.

How we learn to deal with this kind of non-present social space requires that we actively develop deeper understandings. In this sense, slang is knowledge.

As internet’s treasure trove of new words has bled into every day speech, so we see how important these terms are. Talking online has become part of talking IRL as the consequences of online behavior become reified as more of us go online.

Being in a meme is a tough job.

Yak-baiting as Context Switching

Kevin Barron has introduced a term for online interactions: Yak-baiting.

We need the term “Yak -baiting” for when young geeks get an old geek to wander so far afield that the original thread is lost.
Yak-baiting is also known as threadjacking.

Yak-baiting can by a troll, but yak-baiting differs in that it is about the discussion than about the participants. By definition, trolling requires that the troll seek schadenfreude via the emotional disposition of other users.

Yak-baiting is different. Yak-baiting describes a strategy of commandeering a discussion by obscuring the topic through red herrings. A successful yak-baiter gains access to a readymade audience. In this sense, yak-baiting amounts to hijacking the audience.

Given that in social media, attention is currency, yak-baiting is fairly hostile. For participants actually interested in the original topic, it also wastes their time.

Some IRL examples include pundits on cable media, or political commentators who go so far off field that they re-purpose not only the interview but maybe even the the political event in question.

Barron has modified yak-baiting from Alexandra Samuel’s Yak shaving. Samuel sought to explain how our tech world forces us to go afar in one context in order to solve problems in a different context. One example of this might be that you first download an FTP client to create a script on a server so that your French friend gets access on their smart refrigerator a menu of French recipes. The yak shaving “pathway” would be that you download an FTP client so that your friend can make a pie.

Samuel puts yak shaving more directly:

Any seemingly pointless activity which is actually necessary to solve a problem which solves a problem which, several levels of recursion later, solves the real problem you’re working on.

Yak-baiting is in the form of yak shaving. But then again, the entire internet is a form of yak shaving, especially when it comes down to why we go online in the first place.

We go online to get information and to facilitate interactions with other people. In a sense, sharing information is interaction. Chatting, or sending email may seem different than reading an article but all articles and webpages were made by someone. Once people have new and pertinent information, they will go ahead and use it, either to do their job or help themselves to the life they want to have.

Thus, the internet is a medium in which some (pointless) problems are born so that we can solve the very real problems our biological selves encounter offline. By letting us interact with others well, the internet makes it so that we never actually need to meet anyone, even if through that non-presence, we get to know others all the better.

Yak-baiting is a warning to each of us. With better attention, the problems we are working on don’t become secondary to someone else trying to solve the problems they are working on.