The problem with Group iMessages

iMessage logoLast month I received a comment asking about Group iMessages.  An iMessage is a text message sent through the Apple iOS Messages app.  These are sent over Wi-Fi, therefore you don’t need an iPhone – anyone with an iPod touch or iPad has iMessage available.  A group iMessage is a message sent to a group rather than just one recipient.  So what’s the problem? Once you’re in, you cannot get out! Think of a group iMessage as the equivalent of the dreaded “Reply to All” e-mail in a work setting.

[9/22/2013 Update: With newly released iOS 7, you can block a user from sending you a message.  So, if you are in a group message, you can block a user and you will not see their replies in the group message.  For those devices that can updgrade to iOS 7, this is a welcome change! Learn about this new feature here.]

Here’s the Reply to All scenario at work:

  1. Joe sends an e-mail to a distribution group at the company.  However, he sends it to the wrong group, meaning that instead of just the 25 people in marketing it goes to the entire company of over 500 employees.
  2. Linda, Jane and Steve all receive the message and reply back (to ALL) asking, why am I getting this message? Please remove me from this message.
  3. Joe tries to recall the message but it’s too late.
  4. Ken, Sharon and Lisa reply (to ALL again), letting Linda, Jane and Steve know that they should just delete the message.
  5. Barb, Chad and Wendy reply to all, reminding everyone NOT to reply to all.
  6. Joe replies back to all to say he’s very sorry and he’ll never do it again.
  7. And this goes on for a while until everyone gets tired of it, and it just fades away.

Now here’s the same scenario on an iPod touch group message involving a bunch of 5th and 6th graders:

  1. Ashley sends a group message to everyone in her Contacts list that uses iMessage.  This includes her close friends, her good friends, her “just friends”, her BFF’s, a few acquaintances, her soccer team, and her friends from summer camp.  So, about 25 people.
  2. When her BFF Brittany receives the message, she replies back to say hi.  Her message is received by the other 25 in the group message.
  3. Chloe from camp replies back after seeing Brittany’s message and texts, do I know you? Who are you, Brittany?
  4. Ashley’s close friends Molly, Holly and Polly start chatting back and forth about school work and boys, forgetting that the messages are seen by 25 people, some of whom they don’t really know (and maybe even the boys in question?!?!).
  5. One of those kids is Mark, who is doing his homework and getting annoyed by the constant “dings” emitting from his iPod touch as each new text is received.  He replies “TAKE ME OFF THIS MESSAGE NOW”.
  6. A few other kids see this and give Mark a hard time for yelling (ALL CAPS in text or e-mail is usually construed as yelling, screaming or otherwise raising your voice).
  7. Ashley comes home from soccer practice and sees all the replies and the angry outbursts from Mark and few others.  Now she feels really bad; she didn’t realize this kind of thing could happen.  Ashley apologizes and asks everyone to delete the entire Message “string” from their iMessage.
  8. Everyone deletes the Message and things quiet down. BUT, (you knew there would be a but, right?) the following afternoon Jake replies to the group.  He didn’t delete the message and now the whole thing starts all over again.
  9. This continues on for a few days until everyone gets bored.  Finally the group message dies a natural death.

So what’s the problem with Group iMessages?

1. You can’t remove yourself from a group iMessage.

2. You can’t prevent yourself from being included in a group message (unless you use an iPhone).

3. The only way to end it is for everyone involved to delete the message.  If only one person keeps it going it will come back for everyone.

Is there anything good about using a Group iMessage?

I’ve described the down side of group messages, but there can be a plus side too. If the group message includes kids who all know each other, like each other, and can be respectful, it can be a useful way to communicate.  I’ve seen my daughter and a few friends use a group message to ask about homework assignments, or plan for an upcoming activity, or just have some fun chatting.  The key here is that they don’t abuse it with never-ending messages on a constant basis.

Keeping in mind that iOS and iMessage were not necessarily designed for children, group messages can be useful for adults too.  I’ve used it myself to send a message to a few people at a time.  It’s quick and efficient.

How can I tell a group iMessage from a regular iMessage?

You can tell that it is a group message because of the icon.  Also if you click to view the message it will say Group Message at the top.  It will show you the recipients of the message with the word Details to view all of them.

Icon for a group iMessage   Group Message

So what can kids (and their parents) do about group iMessages that go out of control?

1. First off, ask all the kids to delete the group message.  To do this, click Edit near the top of the Messages app.  Then click the red circle next to the message you want to delete, and then click Delete.  Again, this is the only permanent solution BUT it only works if ALL involved take the same action.

Edit Messages  Delete the group message

2. Turn on the Do Not Disturb feature (if you have updated to the most recent version of iOS).  This way, your kiddos won’t hear the sound of the texts coming through and won’t see notifications on their screen.  This would be a good way to stay focused on bedtime or homework, if the others haven’t deleted the group message.

Go to SettingsDo Not Disturb, and turn it On.

Turn on Do Not Disturb in iOS 6

Or, another great idea for kids is to schedule Do Not Disturb for set times.  For example I don’t want my daughter sidetracked during bedtime so her iPod automatically goes on “quiet time” at 9pm each night.

Go to SettingsNotificationsDo Not Disturb.

Set up a Do Not Disturb schedule

4. Turn off iMessage for a while (SettingsMessagesOff)

5. If you can upgrade to iOS 7 (iPad 2 or newer, iPod 5th generation, iPhone 4 or newer) you can block users from sending you a message.

So that’s the scoop on Group iMessages, the modern day equivalent of REPLY TO ALL.  If anyone knows a way to remove oneself from a group message or any other tips for dealing with this issue, please leave a comment!

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Comments

  1. Liz says

    Ahhhh so much technology but yet this simple thing can’t be avoided…I do hate the overuse of reply to all as well! Thanks for the info.

  2. KV says

    Hello
    This is fab information however I am concerned about this and want Apple to do something to change it.
    This has not happened to my own children yet but I have heard problems where, as you said, children that are friends of your children’s friends iMessage the group and your child sees it. The messages become very unpleasant so you remove the Group Message thread, but your child continues to receive messages from the individuals and you do not want them to see the message. What could you do in this situation?
    I think with cyber bullying on the increase Apple should do something about this now.
    Many thanks

    • Jean says

      Thanks KV. I think Apple has something on their site where you can make a comment or suggestion. I’ll see if I can find it. I think the ability to remove oneself from a group message would be welcomed by many – parents or not!

    • Karen says

      I agree with KV.
      My daughter is 10 and has started receiving emails from girls she doesn’t know via a group message and she wants to delete the person sending the emails.
      She also asked the person to delete her address but of course neither of them seem to be able to do this!
      Apple please protect them from this – I want to fix it for her now without having to take her chat away completely.

  3. Troy says

    Great article. My wish list would include being able to drop from the list as well as adding someone new. How about being able to copy the recipient list? And this one is really out there: how about a little message back to the sender regarding who did NOT receive the message (bad address, offline)?

  4. Joe Dimon says

    Thanks, interesting article. FYI I was actually looking for a better group messaging and sharing app, and found a specialized site: messaging-apps.com

    There seem to be some newer group messaging apps like grouptime that have more features, and might handle some of the issues you described (leaving group chats, blocking users, etc)

  5. Bob says

    Another problem with group iMessages is that people who don’t use the iMessage service, especially people who don’t own Apple products, but have been included in the group, end up getting replies to the group as individual text (SMS/MMS) messages directly from each respondent. Reply All within a group of iMessage users is one thing, and clearly has problems, but replying all to people that don’t even have iMessage and thus don’t have the group conversation contained to a single iMessage thread is really annoying. Also, even if Apple did allow iMessage users to leave a group through the Apple messaging app, how would a non-iMessage user go about leaving the group? I could see maybe a special command one could text that the iMessage server would honor. I’d suggest not only being able to leave a group, but being able to block group replies not from the original sender, and maybe blocking group replies or messages entirely.

  6. Geoff says

    Is it possible to change the email address that is used?
    My daughter is also 10 and has been added to a group message. Whilst it can be of in the evening it doesn’t stop the messages coming through in the morning.
    Some messages have been abusive towards some of her friends and even a father(whom I don’t know ) has apparently been swearing at them on the group message.
    Is this a job for the police at this stage? My daughter is now involve in conversations with adult men . THIS CANNOT BE ALLOWED. IT’S SICKENING

    • Jean says

      You can the change email for iMessage but I’m not sure what effect that will have on the current group message. That is very disturbing about the parent swearing in a group message with children! How awful. I’m not sure about police involvement unless there was threatening involved but if the message doesn’t die down it is worth a try.

  7. Marcos says

    I want to send an imessage to my group but when i want to send it i only can a text message can you help me fix this please!!!!

  8. mayaroland says

    ummmm well yall need to come up with a berttter idea aabout how to get this thng deleted cuz it gets on my nervs

  9. Pam says

    Below is a chat my friend just had with Apple support. If a bunch of people request this maybe they will look into it!! I am simply leaving feedback to be able to Opt-out or Leave a Group Chat.

    Hope this helps!

    I definitely want to do everything I can do to help you resolve this issue over chat. In the event you need to contact us in the future, You can visit our support site here, support.apple.com

    Yes, thank you

    Welcome to Chat. How may I assist you today?

    Is there somewhere I can take myself out of a group chat?

    or somewhere I can suggest this for the next OS upgrade?

    I know how frustrating that can be when your trapped in a group chat and you want out.. Let me do a bit of research on my end to see if we have a way to remove you…

    awesome! Thank you!!!

    I know how important this matter is to you and I would be happy to submit feedback requesting that this policy be reviewed. The more feedback we get on a particular issue the more likely it is to gain attention. You can also provide feedback for our products at http://www.apple.com/feedback/

    • Jean says

      Hi Aubreh, well you cannot remove someone else from a group iMessage, you can only remove yourself (in iOS8). So what you could do, is remove yourself from the current group iMessage, then start a new conversation in iMessage without including that other person.

  10. Julie says

    I received a MMS group text the other day and I knew no one in the group and it was not meant for me. The person originating the message does not know my number so how did it come to me?? It was a teacher at the local high school messaging four students to help at back to school night and it scares me that some one undesirable can get these students phone numbers!

    • Jean says

      Hi Julie,
      That is somewhat unnerving; I wonder if you could check with that teacher to find out how she received your number?

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