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Golden rules for WhatsApp communities

WhatsApp groups are proving increasingly more important for the dissemination of news that affects housing/street/suburb communities. But like many social platform technologies, they can be difficult to manage.
Conflict case study

The complex I live in has only 14 units, 11 of which have direct lawn access to a dam. It makes for the most peaceful setting, with geese, ducks, guinea fowl, moorhens, and the odd seasonal mongoose or two, as permanent, or semi-permanent residents. And all this despite being bordered on one side by one of Johannesburg’s busiest byways.

Like most complexes, we have a WhatsApp group, and all residents are members, inclusive of those renting. Community WhatsApps are extraordinarily helpful, informative, and because they have an immediate response time, can be lifesavers. Our complex was for years seemingly targeted by criminals; in fact no single unit can claim it was not robbed, in many cases full-blown armed invasions, cars stolen, etc. In response we upped our security, largely motivated through the WhatsApp group, to advertise meetings by concerned residents, and to vote on decisions presented.

Unlike most, our complex is freehold, so we do not have the benefit of Body Corporate rulings. Although we can form one, it is our resident’s majority decision not to be bound by such rules, rather respecting individual choice with, obviously, some courtesy to our neighbours.

For us therefore, the WhatsApp group is crucial. Messages are generally relative to reporting on security; strangers on the roadside; informing of water meter readings; that Pikitup has been; party and relative noise posts; the birth of baby Egyptian Geese; and when relevant, checking if a power outage is generic or isolated.

But as with any close community, not everyone is going to get along. Two years ago we experienced a no-holds barred war between two next door neighbours, the level of which escalated into police intervention, legal threats and even a misguided ‘almost’ arrest. This played out on the WhatsApp group, with each party trying to score points and win other residents’ support.

As administrator I was concerned but disinclined to remove the parties from the WhatsApp group because of the value of other postings. My decision was to warn the individuals concerned that their issues should be taken offline. It worked, but only until the next ugly incident, an entire different matter, and again they took to the airwaves. The pattern of text abuse continued until one party sold their property.

We held our collective breath when the remaining party took once more to addressing a controversial issue on the WhatsApp, escalating into verbal and confrontational abuse. Fortunately the attacked party took their response off the group, and after an attempt at reconciliation failed, the two families have chosen to disagree and completely ignore one another.

Creating a number of groups

What these incidences highlight is that generally, WhatsApp administrators don’t really have the tools to manage conflict; nor is it a necessary prerequisite. These are individuals, that like me, create a group and muddle through, adding or deleting coming-and-going residents. There is no etiquette or book of rules unless one is created, which is what some complex environments have chosen to do, especially those with a Body Corporate that has the ability to manage the conversations.

Depending on the size of the community, a good idea is the creation of a number of specific groups, such as one for security issues, another for community notices, and even a general ‘Chit Chat’ group.

This does solve the problem of that one annoying - likely insomniac - individual that bombards a group with non-essential information at 11pm. Community Chit Chat groups work well because they are voluntary, and if you don’t have huge amounts of data you’ll likely not be irritated by the drain on your resources, or for that matter the annoying appeal for a cold and flu recipe.

Chit Chat groups can be incredibly active; for some, especially the elderly and those with no friends, it’s a lifeline however. It’s a way to feel connected to others and is reassurance that you are not alone. It must be considered though, that not all members are going to enjoy a particular sense of humour, or train of thought, so rules are necessary.

Three questions before you post

Although rules may be different for each type of WhatsApp group, there are three especially important considerations that can be applied across all. Before posting, ask yourself three questions:

  • Is this relevant/appropriate to all in the group?
  • Is this necessary?
  • Is this a good time?

The Golden Rules

If you do have a WhatsApp group, or want to start one, the following are considered Golden Rules:

  • Content shared is for members only, and should not be redistributed to any third party unless permission has been sought, and such permission should be unanimous.
  • No jokes (unless specific to Chit Chat groups), religious and political opinions, hate speech, racism, and vulgar language is allowed.
  • Consideration must be given to the varying age groups of members, particularly children and the elderly.
  • Respect your peers and ensure your posts are inoffensive and not inclined to provocation.
  • Crime-related information should be considered sensitive but it is understood that the group is an ideal platform to report suspicious behaviour and concerns around security.
  • No advertising or spam should be allowed.
  • The group does not replace your armed or medical response services, but if in an emergency, urgent help or assistance can be requested.
  • The group may be used to post relevant suburb information, such as would impact on your immediate environment or day-to-day activities.
  • Do not expect responses immediately and if you require comment from all parties, provide at least 24 hours for them to do so.
  • Try where possible, to keep to the aim of the group.
  • Post in one chunk of text, rather than a number of text chains.
  • Do not engage in conversations with minors on the group, unless authorised to do so by their appropriate caregiver.
  • Switch to private messaging if the conversation becomes relevant to only a select few.
  • Try not to post on the group between 8pm and 8am unless there are security or emergency situations.
  • Check your sources before sharing information that may be fake (or old) news.
  • Do not post data-heavy video’s/images.
  • You do not need to respond to every post; if a question is asked and you don’t have the answer, it is acceptable not to react.
  • Bear in mind that tone and meaning can be misinterpreted in a text. Pick your words carefully.

Infringement

It should be made clear by the administrator that Infringement of rules may result in the member/s being removed from the group. Administrators should also be reactive in asking those involved in any heated debates to go off-line and try always to be the voice of reason.

What must be understood is that no matter how annoying an individual or topic can be, the WhatsApp groups provide essential information to a community. Used correctly you could be strengthening relationships among the complex occupants, or even save someone’s life.

1 Oct 2019 12:21

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