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There’s a Snitch in Every Group Chat

The assumption of privacy can make you forget how exposed you really are

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and a group chat is always vulnerable to the biggest gossip on the thread. It’s a lesson that Goldman Sachs managing director Heidi Cruz, wife of Senator Ted Cruz, has learned the hard way this week as her text messages about the family fleeing a winter-paralyzed Texas for Cancún, Mexico, circulated online and in the press.

In light of the “FREEZING” conditions at home — in a state where millions of citizens were suffering a cataclysmic storm without power, heat and water, and grocery stores lay ransacked — “Ms. Cruz promptly shared details for a Wednesday afternoon departure, a Sunday return trip and a luxurious stay at the oceanfront Ritz-Carlton in the meantime,” the New York Times reported. That the texts were anonymously leaked and confirmed by the family’s supposed friends as soon as Senator Cruz stirred viral outrage by abandoning his constituents during a deadly climate crisis (and pandemic!) to go on vacation was a point of great amusement for, well, everyone. This is your inner circle? The people who snitched on you before you had time to circle the wagons, blowing up the senator’s flimsy initial attempts to spin the travel fiasco?

But, there for the grace of god go any of us with an active group DM or text thread. We may not be despised politicians with national profiles, nor married to one — though a danger of this type exists all the same, multiplied by the number of participants in our secret clique. We cannot think of the Cruzes’ traitorous contacts as Resistance-style moles just waiting to spring a trap; they really were close to the couple in one way or another, at least previously. Maybe after Senator Cruz’s refusal to accept Trump’s loss in the 2020 presidential election, and his subsequent abetting of the Capitol riot in January, they began to have second thoughts on this social intimacy. However wealthy and conservative themselves — however connected by neighborhood and status — the downside to any relationship was growing steeper by the hour.

What we saw, then, was a decisive strike at a moment of critical opportunity. Of course the whistleblowers can only remain anonymous in the press; the Cruzes will know exactly who sold them out and that the alliance has iced over. This was a public breakup! And breakups are often a matter of self-preservation. Because the group text functions under the assumption of omertà, or some general code of silence and honor, they become the place of secrets and the unspeakable. The people you see getting canceled on Twitter again and again for bad, offensive or tone-deaf tweets — they don’t have a reliable private chat with which to share the stupid crap that drifts through their brains, so they put it on main to get ratioed. Everybody with any sense is quarantining their hottest, potentially toxic takes in the group DM, where you get the benefit of the doubt. This is where you can be less filtered, blow off steam without fear of starting a fire.

Or can you? The trouble is that the perceived safety of the exclusive chat will make you drop your guard, and then, inevitably, develop a new paranoia. You can’t guess which comments are making hidden impressions, what of your exposed personality is being filed away in the archives of memory. You might quietly lose favor; another chat may spring up without you. What’s almost certain is that when you reveal a weakness outside this in-group, and your very reputation is at stake, someone is going to talk. Not always to the New York Times, naturally, but in other DMs, and throughout the greater network of texts and apps, which make it profoundly easy to both monitor and snitch on the people in nearby orbit. Short of a literal blood oath, you are not safe, and look, even the mafia has its rats. Don’t forget to be suspicious every once in a while.

The long and short of it is, Heidi Cruz was extremely sloppy here. I don’t care what opinion you have of your “best” friends, you just don’t make screenshottable plans with a dozen or 20 of them to take a trip that will, if uncovered, cause a mass outcry for your husband to resign from his high-powered job. Pretty simple! However, the Cruzes also deserved this humiliation, and I hope it’s not the last. In fact, I’m thinking of changing my area code and trying to weasel into their new group text for when another scandal like this pops off. The rest of you, stay frosty out there.

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