Quitting WhatsApp Groups (To Deal with COVID-19 Stress) — UPDATED
A beating retreat from another corner of social media, (update — six months on)
About a year and a half ago, I “quit” Facebook, and have absolutely no regrets for having done so. A while ago I felt compelled to do a podcast on the evils of fake news spreading over WhatsApp and platform/ user responsibilities around it. Well, as of yesterday, my social media rationalization continues!
COVID-19, the attendant lock-down etiquette, the social media hyperactivity and ironically, the social isolation stemming from it have all led me to take another step yesterday — the act of quitting most WhatsApp groups I was a part of.
This is an attempt to explain my rationale… it began as a one on one conversation with a friend, and the reason to share it is that I thought it may spur someone else’s thinking.
(Updated 10 Jan 2021: my actions seem prescient now that Whatsapp have updated their terms of service to the user’s detriment! Scroll down to the end for an update on how this has gone the past 7 months!)
Today I quit a bunch of WhatsApp groups, because I realized I’m not using then for the same reason others are. You may be thinking, so what do you use WhatsApp groups for vs. the Others?”.
Let’s answer that in the most long-winded way possible…
What I used the WhatsApp Groups As
I saw them mostly as a vector for sharing stuff I find interesting. silliness, memes, humor. The problem I’ve found, is that in a group (as opposed to on a feed/ wall), you’re somehow more “in the face” of people outside your target ‘audience’ who may share said interest, or don’t want a moment of levity.
People are less likely to not read/ ignore what they don’t want to see/ dislike and move along. This turns it into a vector for highlighting disagreements/ differences rather than celebrating things in common.
What everyone else seems to be using WhatsApp Groups As
A: It is primarily a vector for information for a lot of people — and it is really REALLY terrible for that. It is far too prone to misinformation and then raised tempers and shouting matches.
Hyper-local news, and worse, opinion pieces (I know, har har) are the bane of my life right now. I avoid the discussion forums that belong to my gated community like the plague but WhatsApp takes all that content and just smacks me in the face with it!
People are too freaked out — and a minority are role-playing too much. Everyone is or wants to be seen as the freaked out but conscientious citizen with a good idea or thought.
Sit inside your home, wear a mask when going out, wash your hands, and hope for the best, as all of us jackasses otherwise helpless against the onslaught of the virus are doing. Don’t ping me about it as an outlet!
You think masks don’t work as well as advertised? Yeah we both knew that already! The resurfacing of a known fact shouldn’t cause stress to either of us, but it sure does if we keep talking about it!
In the words of the Ancient One, “it’s not about you.”
So if you know me in real life please don’t be offended by either this article, or me quitting the Group we were both in. WhatsApp has none of the nuance that even a text based one-on-one chat affords us (and text chat is in itself an extremely limiting medium) and this is just me acknowledging that fact.
It’s not about you — this is me trying to shield my serenity from whack-jobs! (I’d never call you one. Well… not to your face anyway.)
B: There’s also this illusion of “staying in touch” if you’re in a group with a set of people, but it’s so passive and threadbare it’s not worth the rancor I think. You know what I’m talking about — that Group of school and college mates where everyone is comfortably thinking they have a channel to their old mates (and a bunch of now-strangers that are part of the package) that only becomes active once in a while and activity subsides only after the conversation degenerates into a discussion of Hitler, Trump, or Modi. (Don’t @ me — again, you know what I’m talking about!)
You know what? I’ll have those days when I miss a dear friend from long ago. I’ll ping them one on one or maybe have a chat over the phone. If we get really misty-eyed I’ll set up a Zoom or Google Meet call with them and one or two other people we each care about.
I don’t need to keep a channel open to them that is full of memes, jokes, and blase birthday and new year’s wishes! (Not to mention the guilt-trips that are “Oh but so-and-so never pings us/calls us/ remembers our b’days and anniversaries…”)
You want to stay in touch? It’s simple — ping me/ call me/ email me. I want to get in touch? I’ll do the same. That’s what WhatsApp can be if used purely as a (non-group) messenger. It is for tactical messaging — not constant ennui-busting “communication” that is anything but!
WhatsApp Groups are COVID-19 Stress Vectors
“Hey did you hear of the positive case from the nearby community? Are the people around you being good socially distanced citizens? Are you interested in being part of a bulk dishwasher purchase? Why not? Do you think so-and-so was right when they went to work? Do you reckon they used sanitizer and wore a mask? What about when they stood in line at a store that was not observing social distancing? Should your gated community be doing what they’re doing? Discuss”
OK, who gives 2 figs? Why get stressed out over it? In all the conversations people are having about mental health in the time of COVID, no one seems to be championing the act of shutting the F up and letting others be. (Or maybe they go unheard… hehe)
If it hasn’t happened yet, it will be a matter of a few weeks/ months before every community has to deal with a Covid positive case. It is inevitable. I don’t need to hear it, discuss it to death, agree the world is going to hell in a hand-basket ad infinitum ad nauseum!
My ardent hope in these pandemic times is that one day I will get tested and they say “Oh you have the antibodies. Guess you got it and never noticed!”.
The dark gibbering corner of my monkey brain is saying There is no way less that 60% of us catch it before this all turns to normal. It’s going to go on for months, and I’m trying to whip the ape into shape to be ready for that.
Quitting Whatsapp Groups was important to me because I realized they are now a major vector for not information, but stress!
Like the example of the fact that masks in and of and by themselves can’t keep us safe from the virus OR the objective fact that a vaccine is months away, and there is no empirical treatment for the virus as yet is well known to us now. It does not do to dwell on them. That is not how one copes.
What I can’t keep doing is to have constant group discussions on what is happening and what’s the best way forward. Beyond a point, I make my bed and lie in it. No reason to discuss it again.
So what am I doing, really?
I’m staying out of the Groups fray, limiting my Groups to a handful.
The ones that remain are either immediate family groups, some Groups created in a specific context of common interests where conversation is specific to said interests, a few work-related Groups, and literally a handful of groups where everyone seems to be using them the way I do (or would like to). If I ever want to join another Group that is promising, I will first quit the least valuable one I’m already in!
How do I share the things I like/ am interested in/ etc. with like-minded people? That use case is addressed by Twitter. That’s my pensieve now.
Sure, not everyone I know is on there and or follows me. That’s a good thing!
Meanwhile if I think specific people will want to see specific things I find, I’ll send those to them one on one!
A 2021 Update — What Kind of 7 Months Has It Been?
My Groups experiment has gone swimmingly well. I am now on around 4 WhatsApp Groups, three of which I’m actively working on moving to Telegram following WhatsApp’s latest TOS change which means they link things up with the Big Bad that is Facebook!
Here’s the TL;DR — would I recommend you do this? ABSOLUTELY. Do I have any regrets? NONE.
The Long Version of the Conclusion
My level of anxiety has been quite manageable, and while I admit to having been disconnected from a few of my social circles, it’s also encouraged several one on one interactions that would otherwise not have happened, instead consumed into the ennui and non-intimacy of forwards posted to common groups.
Some of the more goal-oriented Groups I am on are now in “Admin only” mode for posting, which means there’s significantly less spam/ stress originating there.
There are three categories of Groups I simply cannot quit however:
- Work related — WhatsApp is a monopoly when it comes to messaging in India, and is the de facto channel if you want to talk to colleagues, acquaintances, or complete strangers like service providers and the like. Until some other service (I like Telegram) gains momentum that’s just a reality you have to live with. That said, my problem with WhatsApp was never real when it came to 1:1 interaction, and it is too much work to ask all colleagues to switch to another messaging service.
- Family Groups — Too many people simply do not have the patience or desire to ‘learn’ another tool. Particularly for my parents and older relations, WhatsApp is now one of the three apps in their phones that they are extremely comfortable with. Again, these are not my nearest and dearest ones and so not part of the problem when it comes to the reasons for quitting WhatsApp Groups!
- Outreach Groups — I run a quiz circle, albeit one that has gone really quiet in the pandemic. Again, because of the monopoly factor, I have to keep to WhatsApp if I want an audience. (Same as me staying on Facebook to promote any hustles!)
Just as an anecdotal metric, in the last week with all the upheaval in the US, the Farmer protests in India, and the ever looming COVID crisis, I have had zero stress episodes brought on by WhatsApp traffic. I have also discovered most of my news from Twitter and YouTube, and I continue to post cat photos and videos to Instagram (which has gone from being a personal channel to being an impersonal cat-channel!)
So if you’re finding yourself increasingly stressed by WhatsApp, concerned by how it shares and stores your data, and the like, I’ll say this: Do what I did, I recommend it! Oh and if Facebook is your bane — do what I did there too!
And peace out!