recently scrolled through my WeChat while taking a “phone break” at work and noticed how many group chats I am in. From my American expat group and the foreigner group for my compound to more than 10 bar and restaurant groups that send daily deals and happenings, it almost seems as if I have more groups than friends.
Like most people, I mute my groups, and the little red dot shows up to let me know I have unread messages left to the wayside. But in times like these where the need for cellular consumption is strong, I dive in, push the notification to scroll up the 138 or so unread messages and see what I have missed.
Usually it’s just banter or fliers, but recently, and I don’t know if it is due to unrest or boredom, things are getting heated. I have noticed more and more WeChat warriors starting, continuing and egging on fights in chat groups.
While some of these arguments are harmless, like which flavor of the American favorite treat Pop Tarts are the best and whether they should be eaten toasted, untoasted or toasted and buttered, others go a little further.
In one instance, a group was discussing their favorite pizza places in Beijing when one establishment was mentioned that had a seedy past and was generally boycotted by most in the group. However, when someone said, “Well if you want to boycott them for one wrongdoing, are you still going to eat at McDonald’s which is notorious for underpaying their workers?” And that was just the tip of the iceberg. The conversation went back and forth for over 400 messages until an admin put a stop to it saying, “If this topic is mentioned again, whoever brings it up will be booted from the group.” Yikes! While I do agree that businesses should be held accountable for deviant behavior, maybe a group of 500 people isn’t the place to rock up and get on your soapbox.
I am also in a group that posts upcoming DJ shows, parties and drink deals at a local bar. I guess something went down between two of the group members because the group quickly became a clothesline airing out all their dirty laundry. “Someone saw you at the bar last night with someone else! Everyone who knows [***] should know she’s a liar! She said she would never hook up with him, but she did!” Oh my! Hand me the popcorn!
While the subject matter here was less heavy, there was a lot of chiming in, and when the girl finally saw her business was out in the open in a 400+ group, she personally messaged the guy who had called her out. He promptly posted the screenshots of their conversation. Is nothing sacred?
I do feel there is one saving grace for WeChat and that’s how WeChat Moments controls who sees and can comment on a post. Obviously, if someone is not your friend, or if you have blocked them from seeing your Moments, there is no issue – they can’t see or post on anything. But also, you cannot see comments on someone’s post unless you are friends with the comment poster as well. I feel this function keeps countless keyboard warrior battles from breaking out on the platform.
There is a flipside to the eerie glow of the screen. I feel the anonymity of the internet or the ability to speak in groups online also helps people who might not be able to connect otherwise. I find that people going through problems with mental health or groups for women where they can talk freely about female medical issues really help people when the information or help can’t be found within their own circle of friends.
I mentioned before the American expats group. There is a comfort in jumping in and talking with a group of people from my motherland living here and discussing things such as our favorite snacks, restaurants and long-forgotten television programs from our childhoods. In addition, the virtual world blends into reality as the group puts on events a couple of times a year for people to meet and mingle. While I hope not to run into one of the non-toasted Pop Tart lovers, it is nice to put a face to a name.
So, I think a good lesson for the WeChat warriors out there is that Beijing and the virtual community are not as big as you think. You never know when you might meet your online arch-nemesis in person. That being said, I hope that admins and people in groups going forward could use online platforms in a positive way rather than hiding behind their screens to say mean and hurtful things they wouldn’t dare say in public or to people’s faces.