How group chats rule the world

I’m not particularly powerful; it doesn’t matter which jokes involve me and which dinners I’m invited to. But it’s instructive to think about the digital rooms built by those who are. We often see glimpses of such group chats in court documents, the familiar blue and white iMessage bubbles screened and presented as evidence. A text chain between Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, and Tucker Carlson, for example, was one of many chats that were the subject of Dominion Voting Systems’ defamation lawsuit against Fox News. The tone is pleasantly familiar; they complain, they gossip, they co-elaborate the news. Carlson admits something he would never say on the air: “We are very, very close to being able to ignore Trump most nights. I’m really looking forward to it.” (Sounds like a confused liberal from MSNBC in 2019!) Fox colleagues complain. “My anger at the news channel,” Ingraham writes, “is pronounced. Lol.” (Softening the sentiment with an awkward digital laugh: He’s just like me!) But he also acknowledges the group’s possible influence. “I think the three of us have enormous power,” he writes, and then, later: “We should all think about how together we can force a change.”

That “thinking together”, going back and forth in real time, moving towards something non-specific but still quite tangible – that’s the gist of a group chat. There have always been behind-the-scenes meetings between powerful media figures, but such things no longer happen in the proverbial smoke-filled room; they happen constantly and more widely. I know of a group chat where, among other things, a group of successful men exchange investment advice and sometimes even function as a de facto investment group. (I’m not in that chat – would I have more money if I were?) There are others where people’s co-working ultimately leads them to goad each other into breaking the law – as in the January 6 insurrection, which also dumped treasures of group chats in court documents. Sam Bankman-Fried had, according to the Australian Financial Review, a group chat called “Wirefraud”. He denied it, but it’s funny how easy it is to imagine that it’s true: where else could a group of technicians coordinate fraud if not in the chat?

Such chats do not have to be explicitly nefarious. Often their power is the indirect result of tenuous social ties, of people clashing against each other digitally all day. The run on Silicon Valley Bank in March last year could be, at least in part, traced to a group chat involving, as one insider described on Twitter, “more than 200 tech founders.” The man who tweeted this described the familiar experience of seeing stressful messages pop up during a bathroom break at work; Seeing alarming chatter about the bank, he canceled a meeting and immediately urged his wife to withdraw the money. Others followed suit. You have to wonder what was being said in this group chat of “200+ tech founders” before the bank run. If I had to guess, the basic content would be no different than my chats: a jumble of links, a jumble of different conversations starting and stopping. I imagine people complaining about Bay Area housing policies or business advice about the latest mushroom-based coffee substitute. Without realizing it, they may have built something together, however undefined: a community based on shared values, interests and hobbies, reaffirmed daily from the little things, right down to their favorite restaurants in Hayes Valley. Then someone questions the solvency of a bank, others attack and all hell breaks loose.

People act irrationally all the time, based on limited information, but there is something specific and perhaps even unprecedented about this number of influential people working at this speed, their reactions blending into each other in a single digital place, to then bounce back into reality. world to send millions of dollars one way or another. The dynamics of group chats – who’s in and who’s not – might seem like the adult version of a kids’ race for a dinner table. But these dynamics can determine not only who eats where, but also financial events, political events and news of real importance. None of these things are entirely solvable, and all of this is happening at very high speed.

One of my favorite group chats, now defunct, was between me and two friends who I was suddenly growing closer to. It was called the “Recently Single Club,” a name chosen as something of a joke, despite circumstances that didn’t seem like a joke to us at all — for me, the painful end of a nearly five-year relationship that had defined my adult life. In the group chat we didn’t discuss the reality of our new circumstances, although we did a lot in person, sometimes as a trio over drinks. Looking back at our messages – sent at high speed during a strange and somewhat manic spring and summer – I see us doing other things: providing each other with a kind of idle and sometimes distracting presence that in some ways amounted to very little, a form of companionship constant low level that was both intermittent and reliable. It was what I could tolerate: giving each other “Top Gun” nicknames, exchanging gossip and advice about bad music, organizing a mutual listening session on Spotify while we prepare for a party – the virtual version of someone just sitting next to you in living room. in the midst of illness or pain, doing nothing but being there. Eventually the chat was renamed to reflect the fact that we were no longer single recently, exactly – some of us were no longer single at all – and then it mostly petered out, replaced by other, larger chats, different combinations of friends .