A few years ago, I went on a business trip to Scotland with journalists from other parts of the world. On the trip, we used WhatsApp to stay connected, which encouraged the participants to stay in touch via WhatsApp as well, especially in the form of group chats.
Over the past years, I’ve been added to probably two dozen different group chats with people from this group and even more with others from similar journeys. While I don’t mind staying in touch, I’ve always wished staying in touch didn’t entail adding me constantly to new groups on the platform — especially adding me to those very active groups at 3 AM, which seems to always be when that happens (hooray for having friends in the UK!).
On Wednesday, WhatsApp launched a new feature that should alleviate my problem : a way to prevent people from adding you to groups without your consent.
Now, within the app’s settings you can choose whether you can be added to a group by anyone, no one, or only people in your contacts. You’ll find the setting under the Settings menu & Privacy & Groups.
While the feature will be great for my 3am problem, the idea here is actually to help prevent the spread of misinformation. While WhatsApp isn’t used by everyone in the U.S., in other countries it’s exceptionally more popular. Before Brazil’s elections last year, campaigners were using the app to add people to politically-focused groups without their consent, then using those groups to spread misinformation.
Think about all that “fake news” going around Facebook during the US election, and then imagine it coming to you via SMS. The same is reportedly happening right now in India.
Opting out of groups doesn’t mean that you can’t join some. If you choose to allow “Nobody” to add you to group chats, then you’ll receive an alert with a link each time someone tries to, and you can approve or deny the invitation. If you don’t click the link within 72 hours, it expires and you’ll never be added to the chat.
In my case, for instance, I can join that group at a reasonable hour and then mute those notifications. In the case of an unwanted political group, you can just decline the invite.
The feature is available now for some WhatsApp users and will be rolling out to everyone in the coming weeks.