If I ever came face to face with the programmers responsible for Facebook’s group chat feature, I’m not sure whether I would want to hug them or punch them. On the one hand, group chats on Facebook are a great way to easily communicate with more than one person. On the other, they have all sorts of built-in tools that are easy to abuse and usually end up facilitating all kinds of chaos.
I have been part of a 43-person Facebook group chat since the middle of my freshman year. People use it to post funny things, promote campus events that they’re involved in, and to find people to eat with and hang out with. I particularly appreciate the group chat on Friday or Saturday nights, when a simple message, such as “Anyone wanna hang out?” will usually garner several responses within minutes. However, during the rest of the week, I keep the group chat muted, because the antics that occur on this platform are simply too much for me to handle.
For example, Facebook allows members of a group chat to expel other members from the group chat. In my experience, people have been kicked out of the group chat for innocuous reasons like telling a particularly bad joke or using the group chat to play annoying pranks. In these situations, the person is usually invited back into the group chat within minutes. Sometimes, however, someone is removed from the group chat for more sinister reasons, and they are usually never welcomed back. I believe that my group chat has permanently expelled at least two people, because the members of the group chat felt that this person had behaved too rudely or too inappropriately to deserve the group chat.
While I understand the motive behind removing such people from the group chat, I wonder about the unspoken rules that govern this process, and how fair they are. There is no vote regarding whether or not a person should be kicked out. There is no opportunity for the person in question to defend his or her self. The offending person is simply removed, quickly and silently, and the remaining members of the group chat act as though nothing has happened. I have never heard people object to the way in which this process happens, but I wonder what would happen if they did.
Similar questions arise when it comes to adding people to the group chat. When I first joined, it was made up of a small group of people who all lived on the fourth floor of Houston Hall. My roommate became friends with these people, and was promptly added to the group chat. A few months later, I joined their social group, and I gained membership to the group chat as well. But now, as sophomores, this original social group has begun to splinter and make new connections. As a result, there are some people who are friends with some members of the group chat but not with others. What is the protocol for adding these people to the group chat? How many current group chat members does a new potential member have to know before they can be added? 25%? 50%? 75%? There is obviously no concrete answer to this question, but I do know that I have felt a little bit bothered when someone adds a person to the group chat that I have never met or even heard of.
Admittedly, it doesn’t practically matter who is and isn’t a part of the group chat. It’s not as if anyone is divulging sensitive information in the group chat. But the unspoken rules that govern group chat membership are still interesting to think about, because they reflect how we create and conceptualize our social groups. Anyone who believes that college students have outgrown the “You can’t sit with us!” mentality described in Mean Girls need only delve into the inner workings of a group chat to realize that this is not always the case.