How to politely leave a WhatsApp group, and other social media conundrums

Go forth and scroll without stress with our guide to blocking, ghosting, muting and leaving groups on social media

“Never add anyone (friend, colleague or boss) after a first meeting. Too needy and too much, too soon.”

“Never add anyone (friend, colleague or boss) after a first meeting. Too needy and too much, too soon.”

 

Life has always been a social minefield, but in today’s always-on era of right swipes, reply all and read receipts, we’re through the looking glass.

Whether you’re reading this article on your phone, or managed to put it down for 30 seconds to read a physical newspaper, your device is almost certainly somewhere within arm’s reach, demanding your attention with notifications pinging about new messages or emails received, social media updates posted, or articles published on your favourite websites.

According to research by Ipsos MORI for Deloitte in 2018, 97 per cent of Irish consumers have access to a smartphone, and we check these electronic ball and chains on average 55 times per day. But what effect is this barrage of notifications having on our real lives, and our mental health?

Research examining the impact of social media on our mental health is still in its infancy, and the results are not yet clear, according to clinical psychologist and NUIG lecturer Malie Coyne. But social media can play a significant role in how we compare ourselves to others, which can exacerbate existing conditions such as anxiety and depression, she adds. Those with low self-esteem to begin with are particularly affected.

For professional or personal reasons, many of us can’t just simply opt out of using social media altogether, but for mental resilience, Coyne advises “balance, balance and more balance”.

An easy way to cut down on our social media use, and our anxiety around it, is to remove ourselves from certain group chats, and limit or block our interaction with particular people. But doing so requires a certain etiquette to avoid causing offence, or coming across as plain rude.

We spoke to Orla Brosnan from the Irish School of Etiquette, and William Hanson, an etiquette expert in the UK, to get their perspective. Go forth and scroll without stress.

Is there any way to politely leave a WhatsApp group?

From family banter to organising a hen, there’s a WhatsApp group for everything nowadays, and the constant notifications can be overwhelming. How can you exit a group you’ve been added to without causing offence?

“If you are leaving a group because the event has passed, send a last message to say “that was great, thank you everyone, I’m leaving the group now”. What is wrong with common courtesy?” says Brosnan.

Hanson says he would never add someone to a group without asking them first. “They are like digital quicksand: once you’re in, it can be hard to get out. If you do want to get out of a group then I think being honest is the only option. The fear is not knowing then what is said after you leave.” He’s also a great fan of the mute function on WhatsApp, which allows you to silence notifications on a particular chat.

Should you block an ex after a breakup?

“It all depends on how the breakup goes,” Hanson says. “Blocking” - which prevents the other person from seeing your updates or profile, or being able to contact you - “when it has been a painful breakup is a good idea as it stops both parties spying on one and another, and gives more time for any wound to heal. And however bad the relationship ended, it was part of your life, at the end of the day. If the ex is in your profile or cover photos, then obviously you need to change those.”

Blocking is, Brosnan says, a personal choice. But she strongly advises untagging yourself from any photographs of you with your ex on social media. “Do you really want prospective partners to be able to view your previous romantic photographs?”

What’s the story with ghosting?

“Ghosting” means severing contact with someone by abruptly stopping communication without explanation, most commonly done after Tinder dates. Both Brosnan and Hanson agree the nicer thing to do is drop someone a message to let them know you have no interest, or say it at the end of the date in person. “It’s just showing respect,” Brosnan says.

“That said,” Hanson adds, “if you can’t handle rejection and being ghosted (however awful it is), then perhaps dating apps aren’t for you.”

Should you say hello in real life to someone you only know online?

A peculiar new conundrum: should you approach someone you only know from Instagram Stories? “There is no harm in this so long as they don’t look engrossed in something else, and you do it nicely,” Hanson says.

“Remember, we judge people within seven seconds, so don’t walk over in a shy, timid manner. Be fairly casual, but don’t be over-familiar, Smile, walk confidently and introduce yourself. Don’t assume you will automatically be recognised. Say words to the effect of, “Hello, Stephen. I’m William Hanson. We have spoken a few times on Twitter.” Never start an introduction with ‘You won’t know who I am…’”

And finally… Should you befriend your boss on social media?

Brosnan’s take is to ask yourself three questions first: “Will you benefit professionally from this connection in the coming years? Does this platform broadcast your image in a positive light? Is your manager connected to any other co-workers?” If you assess the situation and decide adding them is the right move, then make sure you either curtail posting during business hours, or place your co-workers on a restricted filter to limit what they can see and engage with.

On the flip side, Brosnan advises bosses themselves to refrain from adding subordinates on any social media but LinkedIn. Better not to be that boss. “And never add anyone (friend, colleague or boss) after a first meeting. Too needy and too much, too soon.”

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