The Pitfalls of Group Texting: 4 Things You Need to Know Before You Hit Sendby Michelle L. Dozois on November 07, 2011
A week ago, I received a “Happy Halloween!” text at 10:30 p.m. from a guy (we’ll call him John) I’d gone on two dates with back in the spring. He’d included a picture of his Halloween costume and wanted to know what I was up to.
I wasn’t too surprised to hear from him; he’d been “checking in” every few months even though I’d been up front about no longer being interested. But this time, there was a twist: Because I have Group Messaging turned on, I could see that he’d also sent the message to two other people. Whose phone numbers were [redacted] and [redacted].
Out of sheer curiosity, I Googled them. One yielded no results (unless I wanted to shell out dollars to reversenum.com), but the other: jackpot. Her number led to her theater resume. I immediately knew her name (same first initial as mine), age (I’m a couple years older), height (I’m a couple inches taller), what she looks like (similar hair color/style as mine), and that we both live in NYC and have a dance background. Also, we share a distaste for Raisinettes. Hmm, should I Facebook friend her?
I could’ve easily replied to John’s text with something snarky, outing him as a mass-texter; by default, the reply would’ve gone to the entire group. But I didn’t. (Besides, who knows if he was actually attempting a booty call or if it was just a friendly Halloween text. Still: awkward.)
If the same thing had happened with someone I really liked, I would’ve been crushed. And lately, I’ve been hearing more and more stories about group texting mishaps. So in the interest of preserving relationships of all kinds (whether romantic or friendly or professional), here are some key points to remember when it comes to group messaging, whether you’re on the sending or receiving end.
“If I send a text to more than one person at once, will the recipients be able to tell (and reply all)?”
Maybe, maybe not — it all depends on their settings, not on yours. Which is why you should always operate under the assumption that they can.
If they have an iPhone and have turned on Group Messaging under Settings > Messages (note: you have to enable MMS Messaging before you can see the Group Messaging option), they’ll see the phone numbers of up to 9 other recipients. And when they reply, by default their reply will go to everyone in that group.
Group messaging is also a feature on BlackBerry devices and the Windows Phone — again, they can see everyone’s numbers and reply all.
On some other phones (such as certain Android models), the recipient can tell that it was a group message because it shows up as a multimedia message instead of a normal text message — but they can’t see any other recipients, and therefore their replies only go to the original sender.
“If I receive a message that was sent to multiple people, when I reply, will it reply-all?”
If you can see other recipients’ numbers, then yes, by default your reply will go to everyone whose numbers you see.
For example: A few weeks ago my friend Ryan sent out a mass text with his new number. A day later, I got this reply-all message (shown at right) from one of Ryan’s friends: “Ryan who?”
This feels like a pretty big flaw that will hopefully be addressed by phone makers soon: People have been sending mass texts for years (raise your hand if you’ve ever gotten an impersonal “Merry Christmas!” or “Happy New Year!” via SMS), but built-in group messaging is a relatively new feature. Which means many people are sending group messages and replying all without realizing it.
Ideally, when you receive a group message, you should be given two options: “Reply to Sender” and “Reply All.” (I don’t know of any phones that do this, but if you do, please let us know in the comments.) Until then, if you get a group message and there’s no need to reply to everyone (especially if you don’t know them all), don’t just hit reply — create a new message with the original sender as the only recipient.
“Is it possible I’ve been replying-all to group texts without knowing I was doing so?”
If you knew it was a group text and could see the other numbers, then yes, you’ve probably been replying-all. (Another giveaway to look for: on the iPhone, the two-person icon indicates that it’s a group message.)
“I can’t tell if a message has been sent to more than just me, but I only have a remedial smartphone (LG Chocolate Touch). Someone somewhere has a reply all feature though, because when a friend sent out an ultrasound pic I got 5 other texts from numbers I don’t know saying ‘Congratulations Amy!’ “ –Claire, Boston, MA
“I want to mass-text a group of people with [my new phone number, a picture of my new puppy, etc.] but I don’t want any of them to be able to see the other recipients or reply-all. Is that possible?”
No, unless you get lucky and none of their phones have group texting.
If you really want to
play Reply-All Roulette go with mass-texting, consider sending it in a few batches and grouping the recipients according to least potential for embarrassment/confusion/annoyance: family members go in one batch, friends in another, coworkers in another, and your friend who always replies to your texts with something inappropriate gets his own message.
(Side note: GroupMe, the group messaging service that’s great to use when you do want to be sure everyone can reply all, notes in its FAQ that while they know “many people are looking for a broadcast-type service” without reply-alls, they don’t support this feature yet. Bummer.)
And finally, in case this somehow isn’t clear yet: If you’re trying to get a date for Friday night, everyone gets his/her own separate text. Always.