Set­ting a few ground rules for group chats can help tremen­dously

New Straits Times - - Viewpoint - ah­madt51@gmail.com @aat­pahit­ma­nis The writer is the chair­man of Yayasan Salam Malaysia

DIN is an old friend who has plenty of time on his hands. Re­tired some years ago, Din is an In­ter­net surfer. He does this dili­gently. Each time he comes across a gem, he would share it with friends.

His shar­ing method is via What­sApp, a smart­phone ap­pli­ca­tion that has made com­mu­ni­ca­tion eas­ier and faster.

How many text mes­sages do you re­ceive ev­ery day — 20, 50? How rel­e­vant are they? Do you spend a lot of time read­ing them?

To­day, more than one bil­lion peo­ple in more than 180 coun­tries use What­sApp to stay in touch with friends and fam­ily, ac­cord­ing to pub­lished re­ports.

What­sApp also of­fers free phone calls, as long as you have In­ter­net con­nec­tion. With such ben­e­fits, it would be rather fool­ish to ig­nore What­sApp.

With such ad­van­tages come the headache of man­ag­ing the mes­sages that keep com­ing to our phones. If you are a mem­ber of a What­sApp group chat, then your headache dou­bles, or triples.

Let me give you an ex­am­ple. I be­long to sev­eral What­sApp groups. A What­sApp group has an ad­min­is­tra­tor, who is usu­ally the per­son who forms and man­ages the group. I’m a mem­ber of 20 What­sApp groups and the ad­min­is­tra­tor of two fam­ily chats.

Not all text mes­sages are im­por­tant. Many are jokes and greetings of the day. Fam­ily What­sApp groups are use­ful in shar­ing the lat­est fam­ily up­dates. For ex­am­ple, a grand aunty of mine died last Wed­nes­day and we used the fam­ily chat to in­form every­one.

Some groups spread very se­ri­ous cur­rent news, ei­ther sourced from the me­dia or di­rect from the news­mak­ers. At times, mem­bers ar­gue heat­edly based on the sub­jects in­tro­duced.

The de­bates can some­times turn ugly and very un­pro­duc­tive, not to men­tion stress­ful and dis­turb­ing.

It is not un­known for mem­bers to leave a group, end­ing friend­ships stretch­ing many years. Re­li­gious and po­lit­i­cal de­bates are the ones that tend to be di­vi­sive.

Sa­mad, a group ad­min­is­tra­tor for a What­sApp chat com­pris­ing 83 mem­bers, has the daily headache of man­ag­ing his gang. He tries to get mem­bers to ad­here to sev­eral rules.

One of the most ir­ri­tat­ing things is the copy-and-paste syn­drome. You get the same mes­sage sev­eral times a day, posted by mem­bers us­ing the copy-and­paste method.

Sa­mad al­ways re­minds his mem­bers not to ex­ceed two “copy and paste” mes­sages a day. De­spite the fre­quent re­minders, mem­bers some­times get car­ried away and post sev­eral such mes­sages a day, much to the an­noy­ance of the oth­ers.

Not all mem­bers are ac­tive, mind you. Some never send a sin­gle mes­sage. They don’t con­trib­ute at all to any con­ver­sa­tion. I won­der why they are in­cluded in the first place.

They should ei­ther leave the group or the ad­min­is­tra­tor should just ex­pel them.

I re­gard the ex-Utu­san Malaysia What­sApp group as one that has clear ob­jec­tives and is use­ful to its mem­bers. Its ad­min­is­tra­tor is Jo­han, who sets very clear guide­lines and ob­jec­tives.

In ad­her­ing to the rules and in keep­ing with the ob­jec­tives of the group’s for­ma­tion, no one has left it and their mean­ing­ful friend­ship has brought ben­e­fits for every­one.

This is what Jo­han has to say: “I put sim­ple rules in place. They keep every­one sane and sober. Thank God, we are all good friends. As we age, friend­ship is more im­por­tant than in­sist­ing one is right and all the oth­ers are wrong.

“Life is short bro! Let’s keep it sim­ple and mean­ing­ful. My first rule is to re­mind every­one that this is a shared group, aimed at cre­at­ing bonds among friends. We share our agony and ec­stasy here.

“We don’t have po­lit­i­cal and re­li­gious de­bates. Long ser­mons and con­tro­ver­sial is­sues of halal and haram are not suit­able in this group.

“We share our good times and bad times here, es­pe­cially among col­leagues and ex-col­leagues. This is our dig­i­tal space to share some nos­tal­gic good and bad mo­ments to­gether.

“This is also the place where we share news about fam­i­lies. We use the space as our sec­re­tar­iat to or­gan­ise trips to visit sick friends and those in dif­fi­cul­ties.”

That’s a sen­si­ble set of rules, don’t you think? Maybe other groups can pick a point or two.

With such ad­van­tages come the headache of man­ag­ing the mes­sages that keep com­ing to our phones. If you are a mem­ber of a What­sApp group chat, then your headache dou­bles, or triple.

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