The tyranny of the family WhatsApp thread – and how to tell if your group chat etiquette is all wrong

My family has two WhatsApp groups: the main one, which is largely taken up with lengthy discussions about what we’re going to eat the next time we’re together, and endless pictures of my parents’ allotment (because we’re all desperate to know how the swiss chard is getting along). Then there’s the sub group, where some of us snipe about all the irritating things happening on the other family thread. “Someone needs to have a word with mum about the true meaning of the aubergine emoji again…” “Which of you idiots showed dad how to make gifs?! I thought we’d discussed this after he discovered selfies in 2015 – he’s like an iPhone, don’t give him any software updates.” If you’re not aware you are in one of these fringe groups, I’m afraid to say that is because you are the one being discussed, and you probably ought to take a long hard look at your WhatsApp etiquette. Mike Tindall has this week revealed that he, too, has fallen victim to the tyranny of the family WhatsApp: while relying on the instant messenger service for family news and grooves such as Princess Eugenie’s recent engagement to Jack Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank Brooksbank and the Duchess of Cambridge’s third pregnancy, he admits that he now finds himself in “about 25,000 groups” of which “You’re scared to leave because you don’t want to be seen to be rude.” The trouble with the group chat is, as Tindall points out, that before you know it you are in 56 of them; one for every family party, holiday, or wedding; one for your book club, and another for the second secret book club without Miranda from down the road. Leaving them, as any WhatsApper knows, is rarely an option, so here’s how best to navigate:

 The family holiday thread


Everyone seems to revert to type on a family thread: there are the too-cool-for-school teenagers who rarely deign to even glance at it (and as a result have no idea where you’re actually going on holiday), and the matriarchs who compete to be Planner-in-Chief. Ultimate faux-pas: There are some groups you can quietly leave, but this is not one of them. “Lucy has left France 2018” – it’s the textual equivalent of slamming the kitchen door in your granny’s face. Avoid at all costs.

The wedding thread


Every wedding now automatically requires a handful of WhatsApp chats: one for the hen do, another for transport arrangements, a third for sharing pictures after the wedding… the list goes on. Ultimate faux pas: Posting in the wider wedding thread something you meant to post in the bridesmaids-only group. Your life will not be worth living if what you really think of the place settings accidentally gets posted in the wrong chat.

The school mums group


A breeding ground for passive aggression. “Did anyone see my message about the cupcake decorating stall at the school fair? Really need someone to fill the 14:00 slot?!” The key is to engage cheerfully and sporadically – anything less and you’ll be made an outcast. Ultimate faux pas:Forgetting you haven’t invited little Jake to Harry’s birthday party and posting directions to the climbing centre on the whole class group. Cue major international incident.

The old friends group


Rather than picking up the phone for a proper confab, these days people blurt it all out on a group chat. For everyone else, it then becomes a race to see who can post the most heartfelt/funny/erudite reply. Ultimate faux pas: Not keeping up to date – you’ll kick yourself when you next see one of them and cheerfully ask after their husband, only to find out they announced they were getting divorced on the group chat two weeks ago.

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