Sunday 20 August 2017

Sorry, wrong group...

Watching other people mess up on messaging service WhatsApp is hilarious, but it's a lot less funny when it happens to you

Emily Hourican

Is there anything funnier than the words: 'Sorry - wrong group' appearing on a WhatsApp thread in the aftermath of some clearly ill-advised comment?

Sometimes this 'wrong group' stuff is disappointingly innocent; some boring piece of information about a child's pick-up times or homework. But other times, it's so squirm-makingly bad that, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, it would take a heart of stone not to laugh.

My best experience so far was receiving what was essentially a piece of racist triumphalism - over the refusal of some school in Canada to bow to religious pressure and take pork off the canteen menu - sent with jubilant commentary, to a disparate group of primary-school parents, some 60 or 80 people in total, many of whom were Muslim.

That message was followed immediately by a frantic 'sorry - wrong group', and then, a discreet day later, by the information that 'X has left the group.'

I don't blame X. I'd leave the country.

The problem is, it's funny until it happens to you. In that case, the hideous realisation of what you have done, unfolding in a kind of slow-motion nightmare, is an all-time cringe.

And it's easily done. Most of us now are running so many damn groups, it's hard to keep track. Worse, the larger groups will often have sub-groups, including some, but not all, of the people in the main group. At its most benign, this might mean you have a group involving all parents of, say, your son's class, and then you might easily have another one involving just the parents of the two or three kids he is particularly friendly with. Because this makes life easy, and saves the sending of countless text messages.

Most of us now have many permutations of this - groups of friends or colleagues, with related sub-groups, because you go rock-climbing or jazz dancing with a couple of them, or because you want somewhere to bitch about the other members of the general group.

And it all ticks along great until you are tired, hung-over, or get confused because you're doing 20 other things, and you fire off a message meant only for some, to all.

I've done it twice recently. The first time was fine, boring, didn't even merit an 'oops'. The second time, not so fine. A conversation begun between two people about a third, then continued on a group containing that third... ARGHHHH!

Not bitching

In fact, the conversation was entirely benign and kindly meant, but still. No one ever wants to think other people are discussing them, except possibly to say, 'isn't so-and-so amazing,' and then not another word. Because even something that is said in approval rarely appears that way when the person it is about becomes unexpectedly privy.

It's the grown-up equivalent of being told that your two best friends have been talking about you. No matter how much they protest that they weren't bitching, it's hard to think what else they could have been doing. Half an hour of 'Isn't her hair lovely?' Not very likely.

In the simple olden days of mis-sending text messages, one person would realise you were an idiot/bitch/drunk. These days, an entire gang can be confronted with evidence of your appallingness.

And so it is with some surprise that I learn that WhatsApp is the go-to communication for British MPs. Apparently there are heaps of groups - Eurosceptics, Eurocentrics, women in politics, people who hate Theresa May, people who love her... (I'm betting, politics being the game it is, that there's a whole heap of crossover...)

Actually, scrap my earlier reservations, WhatsApp might just be the most perfect invention yet for politics. The potential for bitching, snitching, back-biting, bullying, virtue-signalling, lying and leaking is endless. And all of it fully deniable. 'Sorry, wrong group...'

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