It’s 2020, and many of us have been participating in group chats on various apps for a long time now. Unfortunately, while group chats are absolutely not new, they’re suddenly looking like more of a necessity than a simple pleasure in the face of a global pandemic and an on-going effort to practice social distancing, quarantine, and physical isolation.
While I am definitely not here to inspire false hope or cheer – this situation is scary, we are experiencing a lot of unknowns for the foreseeable future, and many people feel justifiably very bad and it’s not helpful to try to pretend otherwise – I am here to point out that in our extremely digital moment in time, if you have access to a phone and either a data plan or a Wi-Fi connection, you absolutely do not need to socially isolate while you physically isolate. Enter: the group chat.
1. Who Do I Put In My Group Chat?
The beauty of a group chat is that you are putting multiple people you like talking to in one place, so you can all talk to each other. But a successful group chat is not just a collection of your favorite people – you want to create a collection of people who all enjoy talking to each other. Think of each group chat as a collective gathering; you probably wouldn’t invite your work friends and your mom to the same Happy Hour, so these people should not be in the same group chat. The key to the group chat is synergy: you are not yelling into the void (that’s what your Facebook/Twitter posts are for, duh!), you’re cultivating a small group of humans who will all have useful and fun things to say to each other.
I personally always have a few group chats going on my phone: FAMILY (mom, dad, brother), FEMME LIFE WIVES (two of my best friends), FRIENDLY NUDES I (a group of babes who exchange casual nudes), FRIENDLY NUDES II (lol listen, I am who I am), SCHOOL PALS (self-explanatory), DO WE HAVE A MEETING THIS WEEK (work friends), and then a few other friend groups. You’ll notice some of these are grouped out of practicality (school, work, family) and some are grouped because people have either opted in or it just seemed natural to exist in digital space together. Sometimes a group chat springs up out of necessity for a specific project – a group birthday gift y’all are planning to go in on, an anniversary party multiple people are planning – and those often last the duration of the project and then fizzle out.
2. Can I Just Create A Group Chat?
Yes! If someone doesn’t want to be included in the chat, they either have the option to just mute the situation (more on that in a minute) or politely excuse themselves and leave the chat. I would urge you not to take it personally if someone does not want to be in your group chat, because everyone communicates in different ways and some folks may just be overstimulated or uninterested in group chatting. That’s fine!
Whereas in the past we may have had the opportunity to ask everyone in person if they wanted to be involved in a group chat (for example, one of my friendly nudes group chats originated from a writer’s workshop we all went to together last summer, and while we were there we inquired who in our workshop would be comfortable exchanging nudes), we’re all currently trying to be as physically separated as possible, so I think it’s fine to create the chat and see what happens next. If you’re wanting to be very cautious (for example, if you’re creating a space where people are going to be sharing nudes or personal information) you could text everyone individually first and see if they’d like to opt in.
We’re living in a really weird and stressful moment in time and I don’t think anyone should spend too much time feeling anxious about the “right way” to create a group chat. If you miss hanging out with a group of people you’re used to seeing together in person or wish you could hang out with a group of people who are geographically far apart, make a group chat. The worst that can happen is no one chats very much in it or everyone leaves, and both of those things are as fine as anything else is fine right now.
Give your group chat a fun name when you create it, because why not. Something that will make everyone else in the text laugh or smile is ideal – we’re searching for small joys right now.
3. Where Should We Be Chatting?
People love Signal because it is encrypted and free. When I asked Autostraddle’s Former Tech Director Cee what app I should advise people to have their group texts on they said, “Signal is my only recommendation.”
That said I’m going to be honest with you, I mostly use iMessage. This is purely because most of the people in my life use iMessage, and I haven’t launched any campaigns to get them to switch to Signal. (Something to remember is that if folks aren’t signed into an Apple device when using iMessage they are actually sending texts, which can incur charges from your cell phone provider, depending on your plan.)
A lot of people use Slack for all sorts of social conversations. Sometimes I have group DMs on Twitter, usually if we’re discussing a specific tweet. There are a lot of group DMs on Instagram and they all stress me out because the platform is so poorly designed when it comes to messaging and it’s impossible to search for anything properly.
Folks like WhatsApp because it, like Signal, is encrypted (as is Slack) but Cee warned that both WhatsApp and Slack are encrypted but “not end to end” (if that means anything to you, which it does not to me!) and WhatsApp is owned by Facebook and not to be trusted.
In short, I’d say the best place to have a group chat right now is the place that everyone in your chat can navigate and handle. If your grandma wants to learn how to use Signal, cool, but if she’s not going to and you really want to have a family group chat in the iMessage thread you’ve had for years, you’re gonna go ahead and do that right now. Meet everyone where they’re at. Understand that unless you’re using Signal you’re not guaranteed privacy, and then choose your choice accordingly.
4. What Should I Share in the Group Chat?
Every group chat is unique and at the best of times, we share different information with different people. While many social norms are not relevant at this moment, we can still show up for each other and be kind. Here are some things I would take into account when thinking about what to share in the a group chat:
What’s the general vibe?
If it’s an established group chat with your best friends, you probably already know what’s on the table to discuss. If it’s a brand new group chat you may have to feel things out. Your work pals may have felt comfortable making fun of your boss in the company kitchen but they may not want to put those jokes in writing, just in case. Your mom may want everyone to do an individual check-in every morning – does that feel good to you or is her anxiety spiking your own? Try to gauge where everyone is at and allow the dynamic of the chat to evolve before you take things too far any particular way.
Lighthearted fun stuff
Memes! Recipes! A photo of a dog pulling a rabbit wearing a tutu in a wagon! Selfies! Plans for a brighter future! Playlists! Yoga videos! Cute stuff your kid did today! Cute stuff your cat did today! Did I mention selfies?
Not every group chat will be the space to share serious updates, but ideally you will have at least one virtual place where you can check in about your health, your fears, your plans, etc. A local neighborhood group text is a good place to share practical info, like when someone is going to the grocery store (see if other folks need anything) or if you’re worried you or someone else is sick and needs to be tested. A group text with your closest friends may be the place to share when you’re having a particularly low mental health moment, or when you feel afraid and lonely and need unconditional love and support.
It’s true, we are in the middle of a crisis and many of us are scared and uncertain of the future. But you are still allowed to feel joy, and life does go on. Celebrate your pals on their birthdays. If something nice happened at work, tell your friends. If you wanna gossip about some wild news in your shared field, go for it. It’s important to be informed, take precautions, show up for each other, and allow ourselves to feel bad but also… there is still good stuff. You’re still allowed to be very excited about a new crush.
5. What Should I NOT Share In The Group Chat?
Again, this differs from chat to chat. But here are some thoughts I have about group chat etiquette.
Consent is the name of the game!
If you’ve read anything I’ve ever written, you know I love sharing a good friendly nude. That said, not all our friends want to receive our nudes! Just because many of us are quarantined and perhaps experimenting with artful nudes for the first time, it doesn’t mean you can just send a nude to any group of humans as you please! If you’re considering sending nudes in your group chat, make sure everyone explicitly consents to receiving these nudes before moving forward! If some folks don’t want to participate that’s fine, make a new group text.
Constant anxiety about COVID-19
Many of us feel scared right now, and it makes sense we want to share our fears and receive comfort from our pals and family. However, constant barrages of information, fears, or rumors about COVID-19 do not do anyone any good, not even you! (And I say that as someone with anxiety who works on the internet, so like, trust me, I get the impulse.) I would check in with your group chat at regular intervals about how much y’all want to discuss COVID-19 together. Ideally you’re in conversation with multiple humans and if one group doesn’t want to discuss news updates, you can find another group that will.
Inside jokes that make one or more people feel left out
Y’all are hanging out as a group to try to combat feelings of weirdness and isolation. You know what feels weird and isolating? When everyone you’re hanging out with talks about events you weren’t invited to, jokes you don’t understand, etc etc. Obviously sometimes things will come up that someone in the chat wasn’t present for or doesn’t understand and that’s fine, but don’t invite someone to a virtual hang and then act as though you’d rather they not be there.
6. How To Deal With Group Chat Fatigue
Right now everyone is very anxious about feeling ALONE in their quarantine, and I get that, but as someone who has balanced 10+ group chats for many years, I will say, you’re going to get tired of talking to so many people all at once, even if it’s only through text! Group chat fatigue is real, and it hits different people at different levels. Some people can manage 20 group chats and it feels great. Some people get overwhelmed with just one group chat. If you’re feeling fatigue about all the folks suddenly trying to chat with you throughout the day, here are some things you can do.
Put your phone down and come back to it later
The nice thing about a group chat is it’s totally possible someone else will pick up the conversation thread and everyone will have moved on by the time you return to your phone.
Mute the group chat
Almost every messaging app has options to do this; if you’re unsure how just Google it, or ask a friend in the group chat (maybe in a private message away from the actual group, LOL). You can unmute the chat when you feel like it; it’s okay if that’s never.
Leave the group chat
We’re in the midst of a global pandemic. If you don’t want to be in a group chat, you can just leave. Your mom might not get the hint and will keep adding you, but that’s sort of a larger problem than one can handle in an article about group chats.
What are your thoughts on group chats? When has a group chat saved you from yourself (aka saved you from tweeting something totally inappropriate that you definitely should’ve only shared with the group chat)? How have your group chats shifted in the past week? Do you like to send friendly nudes to your pals? CHAT TO ME ABOUT IT IN THE COMMENTS, ARE AUTOSTRADDLE COMMENTS A NEW FORM OF GROUP CHAT?!?!