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How group chats rule the world| GuyWhoKnowsThings


I am not especially powerful; It doesn't matter what inside jokes they include and what dinners they invite me to. But it is instructive to think about digital rooms built by those who build them. We can often glimpse these group chats in court documents, the familiar blue and white iMessage bubbles captured and presented as evidence. A chain of messages between Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson, for example, was one of many conversations at issue in Dominion Voting Systems' defamation lawsuit against Fox News. The tone is amusingly familiar; They complain, they gossip, they co-process the news. Carlson admits something he would never say on air: “We are very, very close to being able to ignore Trump most nights. “I really can’t wait.” (Sounds like a liberal baffled by MSNBC in 2019!) They complain about colleagues at Fox. “My anger toward the news channel,” Ingraham writes, “is pronounced. Hahaha.” (Softening the sentiment with an awkward digital laugh: she'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 all “We should think about how together we can force change.”

That “thinking together”, going back and forth in real time, moving towards something non-specific but at the same time quite tangible, is the essence of a group chat. There have always been secret meetings between powerful media figures, but those things no longer happen in the proverbial smoke-filled room; They occur constantly and more diffusely. 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 was?) There are others where the co-processing of people eventually leads them to psych each other up to break the law, like in the January 6 insurrection, which also dumped troves of group chats in court records. Sam Bankman-Fried had, according to The Australian Financial Review, a group chat called “Wirefraud.” He has denied it, but it's funny how easy it is to imagine it's true: where else could a group of technicians coordinate fraud but in chat?

These conversations don't have to be explicitly dire. Their power is often the indirect result of weak social ties, of people rubbing up against each other digitally all day long. Silicon Valley Bank's run in March of last year could be attributed, at least in part, to a group chat involving, as one member described it 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 rumors about the bank, he canceled a meeting and immediately urged his wife to withdraw the money from her. Others followed his example. One might wonder what was being said in this group chat of “over 200 tech founders” before the bank run. If I had to guess, the basic content would be no different than my own chats: a hodgepodge of links, a hodgepodge of different conversations starting and ending. I imagine people complaining about Bay Area housing policies or marketing recommendations for the latest mushroom-based coffee substitute. Without realizing it, they could have built something together, however indefinite: a community based on shared values, interests and hobbies, reaffirmed daily by the little things, down to the restaurants they like in Hayes Valley. Then someone questions a bank's solvency, others cling to it, 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 influencers working at this speed, where their reactions collide with each other in a digital place and then bounce back. in the real. world to send millions of dollars in one way or another. The dynamics of group chats (who's in them and who's not) might seem like the adult version of kids competing for a lunch table. But those dynamics can determine not only who eats where, but also financial events, political developments, and news of real importance. None of these things are completely fixable and everything is happening now at hyperspeed.

One of my favorite group chats, now gone, was between two friends and I who I was suddenly becoming closer with. It was called the “Recent Singles Club,” a name chosen as something of a joke, despite circumstances that to us didn't seem like a joke at all; for me, the painful end of a relationship that had lasted almost five years. It defined my adult life. In the group chat we weren't discussing the realities of our new conditions, although we did a lot in person, sometimes as a trio over drinks. Rereading our text messages (sent at high speed during a strange, slightly 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 constant menial enterprise that was both intermittent and reliable. It was what I could tolerate: calling each other “Top Gun” nicknames, exchanging gossip and bad music recommendations, arranging a mutual listening session on Spotify while we prepared for a party – the virtual version of someone simply sitting next to you in the room. in the middle of illness or pain, doing nothing but being there. Over time, the chat was renamed to reflect that we weren't newly single, exactly (some of us weren't single at all anymore) and then it pretty much dried up, replaced by other, larger chats, different combinations of friends.


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