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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