The WhatsApp Trap

We’ve all experienced it. The phone beeps at 2am and your immediate thought is that there’s an emergency. But when you check the message, it’s someone in your child’s school group sending a chain message. Sleep is extremely elusive thereafter.

Group messaging has radically changed the way we communicate in our personal, business and professional lives. We can decide what gift to get mom for Mother’s Day together, we can remind colleagues of meeting times, we can discuss plans for weekend drinks with our friends, and we can even sneakily discuss things we should not be with our squad.

However wonderful it might be to communicate with people instantaneously, most of us forget that there are still very important etiquette rules to remember. According to the South Africa Legal Information Institute, there is legal precedent for inappropriate messages to be tried as common law offenses or crimes. What you say in group may be held against you in a court of law.

Here are the five most important things to remember when participating in group chats:

  1. Don’t be offensive

Not all groups are created equally. The things you discuss with your closest friends are not what you would discuss in the group with your work colleagues. Your friends know and understand your quirky ways so you can say outrageous things and share funny memes without offending anyone.

Your work colleagues are the people you treat with professional courtesy at all times. The daily requirements and stresses of working together mean that you cannot share inappropriate jokes or even comments that might have negative implications in the workplace.

It is a safe rule of thumb that race, religion and sex are topics that are best avoided.

  1. Respect time

The truth is that we do not know what is going on in other people’s lives, and to send messages at unreasonable times is just plain rude. You might have a brilliant idea that you want to discuss with your partner or friend, but 2am is not the appropriate time to discuss it.

If you want to discuss work, stick to office hours.

If you want to remind someone of a meeting, 11pm is not the right time. And just because you are awake does not mean anyone else is.

  1. Don’t get into an argument on group platforms

SMS stands for ‘short message service’. So trying to write long essays is not going to work. If it doesn’t fit on the recipient’s cell phone screen, they’re not going to bother reading it.

Besides which, as mentioned above, whatever you say can be held against you in a court of law. Be very mindful of what you say to others because not everyone has the same understanding as you do.

Keep it short, simple and clean.

  1. Keep private things private

If a message can be deemed a criminal offence, according to the South African Legal Information Institute, then sending someone a lewd message or image may be construed as harassment and a sexual offence, or in the case of minors, child pornography. It then becomes a very serious matter indeed.

If you’re contemplating sending a risqué message and have even the slightest doubt, the short answer is: Don’t do it!

  1. No chain letters

No one likes them. No one wants them. Don’t send them. People cannot unsubscribe from a WhatsApp broadcast list, so don’t put them in a position where they get stuck receiving continuous messages from you.

It is very important to read your message very carefully before you send it, and ask yourself if it is really necessary to send right now. Ultimately, you are responsible for everything you share on social platforms, so remember to be mindful of others and remember that we all have different perspectives.

By Keshina Thaver