Firecracker Toyeen: The Burden of Being in Too Many WhatsApp Groups

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In December 2020, I decided to cut down the time I spent on social media so I could focus on spending time with God and receiving direction for 2021. I love social media a lot, and it’s a major form of distraction for me so reducing the time I spent there was a very necessary action for me to take. I had cut down my Instagram time after watching The Social Dilemma a month before and I am rarely on Twitter and Facebook, which meant the only social media app that was consuming most of my time was WhatsApp. I went from being a member of one or two WhatsApp groups to being a member of 8 groups, and so I decided to leave some of those groups with the intention to return in January.

The first group I left was a service unit at church that I had been auditioning with and attending recordings for in almost a year and a half, yet they hadn’t proceeded to the next stage with me and I had never served while many who had come after me had been serving for a while. Beyond not even being a serving member of the group, the group was the busiest one I belonged to. Every day was someone’s birthday and messages were constantly coming in. Notifications are turned off for all apps on my phone so I have to open WhatsApp to see notifications. Still, those red marks always compelled me to click on the chat and read the messages in them. Since I never related with anybody in the group, I just left and deleted it without worrying about people seeing that I had left.

The next group I left was a women’s Christian group I had been added to after a conference I attended in November 2019. I liked the group because a lot of relevant information and resources were shared in it, and it was good for my spiritual growth. However, it was also a very busy group that took a lot of time to catch up on chats so I left with the intention to return in January. The group creator reached out to me to ask why I left and I apologised for leaving abruptly saying I was leaving WhatsApp groups temporarily but would return in January.

Seeing as the admin was notified of my exit, I reached out to the admin of the other groups I wanted to leave but return to later to ask them to remove me from their different groups, and I would inform them when I planned to return in January. They all graciously removed me with no hard feelings and when I asked to be readded to two of the three groups, they re-added me.

Not too long after this, I went to visit my ex-principal turned family friend with my mum. I had sent her a message on WhatsApp some days before and also called her but she didn’t respond, which was unlike her. When she saw me, she was apologetic about not calling me back and explained that she intended to but she was overwhelmed by the number of messages she had received on WhatsApp and lost track of time trying to read them. She said the sheer number of messages she usually received from WhatsApp groups was a lot. She belonged to 8 WhatsApp groups from her church alone, then there’s her alumni groups and other groups. She wanted to leave some of the 8 church groups but was persuaded not to leave as some people might find it offensive. I advised her to leave saying she couldn’t be spending her time on groups that weren’t beneficial to her in the name of trying not to offend people. She can’t be offending herself trying to not offend other people.

People of God, if you are in a WhatsApp group where the messages are provocative or annoying or are not beneficial to you in any way, please leave. The reason people often cite for not leaving such groups is that they don’t want to offend anyone but, pray tell me, is it wise for you to be expending your time and data on a group whose messages affect you negatively? Should you offend yourself in order to please other people? Biko, your mental health is more important than someone else’s own. It might sound selfish but it’s true. Everyone is responsible for protecting their mental health so if a group affects yours, kindly leave. 

If it’s a group where you have a good relationship with the admin that you want to maintain, rather than leave abruptly, it’s better to send a private message to the admin explaining your reason for wanting to leave and ask him/her to remove you. If you are also on good terms with the members of the group, you can leave a message in the group explaining your reason for leaving so the members don’t keep speculating on what went wrong that led to your exit.

If you neither care for the group admin nor its members, you can just leave and allow Mark Zuckerberg to announce your exit. However, experience has shown that there are some admins who would refuse to let you exit a group peacefully. Whenever you leave, they would re-add you to the group. To prevent this, open WhatsApp, go to settings>accounts>privacy>groups, and select people who cannot add you to groups with the ‘my contacts except…’ option.

I left two more WhatsApp groups recently. The first one was an extended family group and I left because two people were posting messages about Donald Trump that were seriously triggering me; I would be boiling in my room from reading those messages. I had to ask myself why I was spending time and data on messages that were provoking me when I could easily leave the group. So I left. I was re-added to the group and the very first message sent after I was re-added was the type of message about Donald Trump that made me leave in the first place, so I left again and this time, I prevented the admin from re-adding me to the group. She reached out to me later asking me to return but I explained that I may do so in the future but I couldn’t at this time because the messages were getting me really upset and I had to protect my mental health.

I left the last group because it was taking a lot of my time reading messages I didn’t particularly enjoy. I know some people can just ignore message notifications but I can’t. Even when I see notifications on other people’s phones, I want to click on them to get rid of them. The main reason I left though was because of all the discussion questions that were constantly raised. The first time such a question was asked, it was said to be about a real person and I used all my energy to answer even though it sounded like all these fictitious questions asking what the subject should do that are always forwarded on WhatsApp groups. Anyway, such questions were asked a few more times but this time, I was wiser so I didn’t even bother responding. But one morning, I woke up and maybe I was angry in my sleep, I don’t know, but I saw one such question again in the group and left immediately. I probably acted too rashly but I was in a WhatsApp group leaving mode so… A few people from the group reached out to ask why I left so abruptly and I explained that I was trying to cut off the time I spent on WhatsApp groups. I also asked a friend in the group to send a message I composed in the group chat that explained my reason for leaving.

I have observed that some group admins like to drive conversation any way they can in groups and sometimes call out those who do not say anything in the group. As far as I know, there is nothing wrong with a quiet group where no conversation is going on. It’s more than enough if all that groups like family groups and alumni groups do is celebrate one another’s special days like birthdays, anniversaries, accomplishments, and so on. I feel like it’s that need to always drive conversation that makes people post things that would cause arguments and trigger negative reactions instead of just camaraderie. Dear admin, you have not failed in creating a group if there’s no constant engagement in it. If all the group does is to serve as a database of people’s phone numbers sef, it has still accomplished something.

Please all these are not to say I hate WhatsApp groups o. I love WhatsApp groups that are beneficial to my spiritual, mental, and physical wellbeing. Two of my favorite groups are a group with 5 of my secondary school classmates (I know if they read this post, their head will be swelling like Agege bread that fell into water). 5 of them formed the group together years before I was added in 2018 as the 6th person while in my D-zone phase. I was added by a friend in the group who believed I could do well with the company and they were very good to me in that time and beyond. Like, the group is pure cruise. They always leave me laughing hysterically and I always look forward to reading chats and listening to voice notes even when those chats are 500 messages and counting. It doesn’t hurt that my sticker supplier is in the group. 

The other WhatsApp group I love is one of my book clubs’ groups and I pray they don’t remove me from the group because na me post pass. I enjoy the conversations a lot whether it’s based on the book we are currently reading or some other topic. 

I honestly also appreciate focused groups that are created with a purpose, have guidelines for posting in them and do not allow information that’s unrelated to the group’s purpose to be posted. I believe a (large) WhatsApp group that is intentionally created with a goal in mind and guidelines is more beneficial than one that isn’t.

I am not saying all WhatsApp groups are strenuous. Absolutely not. WhatsApp groups have helped us bond with people with shared interests, connected with old friends and family, provided us with relevant information and resources, and so on. However, when they become overwhelming or provocative, I daresay it’s time to leave them.