Text Etiquette: Stop Responding With Just a ‘Reaction’


Is it ever OK to respond only with a reaction? Before we even humour that question with an answer, let us quash this now: A reaction is not an appropriate response to a message. It may be considered a reaction, sure, but it is in no way a reply.

You see, there’s a difference. If you told me an unfortunate story over coffee and I reacted with a sad face, you would consider that a suitable reaction, but if the dialogue ended there and I sat staring at you with lifeless eyes and a plastered-on frowny face, you would feel dejected and a little weirded out, no?

Well, that’s how reactions feel! Though perhaps time-saving, reactions make a mockery of genuine emotion and are not at all an offering on par with an empathetic response to a text.

We’re not saying there’s no place for them in modern-day dialogue, but simply that throwing a thumbs-up at someone is a lethargic nonresponse and should never be used in lieu of your words. It’s like saying “meh”, but even less effort.

No matter how busy you think you are, we can assure you you are not too busy to do the tap-tap magic and reply to a friend’s messages. Do you know how we know that? Because prior to the launch of reactions, you used to respond with words. And hey, you can do it again.

But of course, there are exceptions. Perhaps one of the only times in which a reaction is appropriate is when you’re acknowledging one emotion in a rollercoaster series of texts that depicts many. You know, those multi-bubble text convos that spiral off in many different directions at once.

Since it would derail the flow of the conversation, you may react to a handful of the messages with the appropriate ‘!!’, ‘Ha Ha’ or ‘♥’, but you’ll still choose at least one element of the conversation to dedicate a reply to. And that’s fine.

Another appropriate opportunity to use react emojis? When the conversation has come to a natural stand-still, yet you still want to acknowledge that you’ve seen their latest reply. “I’ll pick you up from the station”, “Let me know when you’re outside”, and “Have a nice night” are all messages that welcome a perfunctory love heart or thumbs-up react.

But since we can’t speak for everyone, we took our query to the office and asked our colleagues their thoughts on the matter.

“I personally don’t mind a reaction to a message to end a conversation, but I understand why it might be construed as rude or dismissive, as it’s a bit impersonal — especially if it’s the only response you ever get from someone. It’s only marginally better than being left on read,” says Sarah.

“My preference is a response — even if it’s a short and sweet ‘K’. I can’t stand the ‘thumbs up’ react — I find it so dismissive and I feel shut down as I always imagine someone is pulling a sarcastic face whilst doing it,” Michelle adds.

A few fellow reaction haters, but we cannot deny our colleagues who believe reactions have a place in the cultural zeitgeist.

“I think reactions can be especially useful in group chats. Ending conversations with reactions is common because it helps acknowledge that’s you’ve seen and read someone’s message, not just left them on read,” says Jackson.

“Reactions are great if you simply want to get the message across, but if you need to supply something more, you simply have to give the time needed to do a proper response. Reactions work well if you simply want to acknowledge something emotion-free, but you shouldn’t use them to acknowledge a death or an accident or anything serious. It just makes you look shallow.”

The general consensus? Reactions are just that, reactions! They are not replies, they are not responses. If we’re at all interested in keeping our friends, we need to learn to separate the two and distinguish which messages require acknowledgement, and which require response.

Somewhere along the lines, the two became blurred. The reason why we’re even having this discussion is because at one point or another, we’ve all been burnt by a non-commital ‘thumbs up’ in replacement of a plan confirmation, or a ‘love heart’ response to an “I love you”. It’s not the same as hearing it back, and it stings.

The defence rests.

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