Group chats – the new digital etiquette

11 Aug 2016 UK SIC

Messaging services such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Kik have revolutionised the way we communicate. They have also created a whole new social sphere in which new rules of etiquette are still being tested out.

Messaging apps are hugely popular with both children and adults, due to the fact they are free to use and allow users to talk to each other regardless of whether they have an iPhone, Android or Windows device. As well as text, users can also send images, video and audio messages. Using these apps, you can talk to someone one on one, or with more than one person in a group chat. The group chat function is very popular amongst users, as it’s an effective way to share messages with lots of people at once.

For young people, group chats can be difficult to navigate, due to the social pressures of contributing to a conversation in a space where lots of other people can see and comment on it. Therefore it’s really important that young people understand the need for positive behaviour within these group chats.

Here are our top tips to help young people with group chat etiquette:

Unknown members of the group

Remind your child that if they get added to a group chat, there may be other members who they don’t know, who have also been invited by the host of the group. Even though those people are friends of the host, they are still strangers, so children need to be careful about not giving away any personal information. Sometimes this is difficult, as on WhatsApp your phone number is shown by default. Go through the blocking tools of the service with your child, so they know how to stop someone contacting them.

If your child wants to create a group and add different members who don’t know each other, suggest that it would be polite to message them privately and ask if that is okay beforehand.

Notifications overload

Being part of a group chat, with lots of messages going back and forth, means you could get a lot of notifications to your device. If you’re not particularly involved in the conversation, these can get annoying, and you might feel pressure to join in to keep up with everyone else.

There is a way to stop notifications coming through– the ‘mute’ function. This will still allow you to receive messages but won’t send you a notification.

WhatsApp: swipe left on the chat > more > mute

Facebook Messsenger: swipe left on the chat > mute

Kik: swipe left on the chat > mute

Unkind behaviour in group chats

As with any group of young people, sometimes unkind behaviour can occur. In a group chat, this can be even more painful and embarrassing for the victim, as a wider group of peers get to see it too. The host of the group also has the power to remove members from the group chat. If this is done as a malicious act, it can be very hurtful and isolating for the person removed.

Let your child know that if anything worries or upsets them online, they can always come to you for help. It’s important to only accept invites to groups from people you are friends with in real life, and it is okay to leave the group if it is making you unhappy. Encourage them not to reply to mean messages, and save the evidence by taking a screen shot, so they can show you what has been going on.

These messaging apps are still relatively new, and we are all still learning how to use them. No matter what new site, app or game your child is using, the messages to use them safely and positively are the same: be a good online friend, and think before you post. Any other user in the group could take a screenshot, or forward a message on – once something is shared online, there’s no guarantee where it will end up.

Remember that you have to be 13 to use most social networks, including Facebook Messenger and Kik. For WhatsApp, the age restriction is 16.

These services can provide a really positive experience for children – for example, keeping in touch with family and friends who live far away, or creating a group on whatsapp when working in a group project at school. As a parent, you can support your child with these sites by focusing on the positive uses, showing them how to block and report and showing an interest in their online lives.

For more help and guidance, have a look at our parents’ leaflets Supporting young people online and Young people and social networking sites .

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