The realisation you misdirected a sensitive message is among the worst feelings technology can induce. Have faith one day it will be a great anecdote
I accidentally sent a compromising message to the worst person possible!!! HELP ME.
Everyone has made this mistake even the Greatest of All Time. Serena Williams pregnancy announcement on Snapchat was reportedly posted publicly by accident: On social media, you press the wrong button and
Messages are sent to the wrong recipients all the time, and mostly without consequence. But you dont remember the blips in communication, the hilarious misunderstandings, the feelgood new connections. You remember the worst-case scenarios: nudes to a relative; a job application to your current boss. And that classic of the genre: a text unambiguously about someone, to that someone.
This is a mistake that many only make once. The dawning horror as you realise that oh no, ohmygod, nonono yes, you really did send that to them has to rank among the worst feelings technology is able to induce.
Your first impulse is to stamp on your phone, or some other impotent, violent form of damage control. It is also your second impulse when you realise it wont make a jot of difference to the outcome.
One woman told me she texted a man she was about to break up with: Hang on Im about to break up with him Ill call ya later.
One journalist owned up to emailing an interviewee with the subject line: Why I hate [interviewee].
One man was sent a list, intended for payroll, of employees who were about to be made redundant with his name on it (I got an extra month of severance pay, which was nice).
Ive been told some scenarios that are pure farce. A political party listened in on an opponents conference calls for several months after call-in details were misdirected. A lawyer forwarded all of her case files to the opposing team. A government department mistakenly copied in a journalist.
One friend witnessed a dog she recognised from Instagram get hit by a car outside her house. She messaged her partner, A dog just got hit by a car outside my house and Im 99% sure its [xs].
At which point [x] called me, literally screaming, she adds.
That everyone has a story like this reflects both the instantaneousness of digital communication and the absentmindedness with which we approach it.
You may not even realise your mistake until the person you meant to send the message to says they didnt receive it (or you have a flurry of missed phone calls, as in Serena Williams experience: Im like, Thats weird). Then theres an awful, agonising moment of realisation.
Sometimes its easily brushed off with a quick lol soz wrong window.
And sometimes it isnt.
Dont worry Im not going to say if you cant say anything nice, dont say anything at all. I do suggest waiting to say it in person. Former Gawker writer Max Reads account of witnessing a former colleague called on in court to explain a lame joke hed made on chat is a modern-day parable.
The most obvious risk-mitigation strategy is to focus. The count-of-three I advocate before pushing send on nudes (sexy, I know) applies to any sensitive message: always check the recipient.
One day youll be glad you did.
Be especially careful not to confuse forwards, replies, and reply-alls, which is easily done, with embarrassing results. The same goes for attachments. Im willing to bet no one is more scrupulous with their uploads than the girl who sent a Nicolas Cage headshot with her job application instead of her resume.
If you use Gmail, do this right now: enable Undo Send in settings. This allows you to select a window of between five and 30 seconds in which you can cancel a sent email. According to a Twitter search, this tool has enabled plenty of heart-in-mouth, come-to-Jesus near-misses.
Theres no such feature on other platforms but personalising them to look distinct from each other reduces your chances of posting in the wrong one. Click on the cog on the top-right corner of a Facebook chat window or Gmail inbox to change its colour or theme perhaps road-cone, proceed-with-caution orange for your ongoing conversation with Mum.
It pays to keep your windows uncluttered, too; youre less likely to post in the wrong chat if there arent several inactive ones open.
Take particular care to flag group chats, perhaps with a sprinkling of eye-catching emoji in the thread name. Its easy to forget who youre talking to, especially if some participants are more active than others.
But in a worst-case scenario, these silent partners are among the easiest to con. If theyre checking the thread only irregularly, you might be able to bury the incriminating message under an avalanche of text. Opening a group chat to 50-plus unread messages does not invite careful scrutiny of each one.
As strategies go, its a desperate play, but these are the kinds of straws people reach for in such situations.
The mother of one of my friends once accidentally copy-pasted a sexy text into a WhatsApp chat she shared with her two daughters, and their grandmother. Three generations of women were digitally struck dumb by ones reference to a naughty schoolboy.
Mum begged my sister and I to flood the thread with messages so Grandma wouldnt see it, says my friend, with some glee. (They refused.)
If youve never made this mistake (well, perhaps not exactly this mistake), youre on borrowed time. How you respond depends on whats at stake sometimes not very much.
If youve confused subject with recipient, and have to interact with them again in future, I suggest: beg for forgiveness. Maybe grovel some.
Any elaborate and it will have to be elaborate scheme to evade the consequences will only compound them. Urging the recipient not to open the message will not work; neither will any attempts to intercept it.
One friend emailed scathing criticism of her boss to her boss. In a desperate, last-ditch bid to cover her tracks, she went into his office and successfully deleted it from his computer only to notice it already printed out on his desk.
Miraculously, she got away with the inbox intrusion. She didnt get away with having sent the email in the first place.
As cringe-inducing as these stories are, take heart from the fact that mistakes that make your skin crawl today will, with time, mature into great self-effacing anecdotes. Especially if its only your own privacy or embarrassment at stake, you can try to speed up the process by owning it.
On New Years Eve, John Marshall a political journalist in the US with Talking Points Memo inexplicably tweeted a link to a Pornhub video with the remark: They did say targeting close associates.
His 164,000 followers deduced hed meant to paste a different link than Angela & Strawberry, and gleefully waited for him to realise and respond to his mistake.
Marshall eventually acknowledged it the following day, sharing an email hed written to a journalist.
Ive always had intense admiration for people who find themselves in situations where theyre supposed to feel ashamed and run away and hide but just dont … because they dont feel like theres anything to be ashamed or embarrassed about.
It was the closest Ive seen Twitter come to a standing ovation.