The pros and cons of deleting messages on chat apps

Three youths talk about why they like or dislike deleted messages.

Celeste Lim

Yogurt lover with a Spotify playlist for every mood.

Published: 11 March 2021, 2:43 PM

How do you feel when you open a conversation on WhatsApp, only to see the much-dreaded chat bubble that reads: “This message was deleted.”? 

What about when you received a notification from Instagram stating: “This message is no longer available because it was unsent by the sender.”?

Realising that someone retracted a message to me always made me anxious and worried that I had done something wrong.

Those feelings of uncertainty prompted me to permanently make the switch from WhatsApp to Telegram – a platform where I would not be able to see what messages others had deleted and vice versa.


Prior to switching to Telegram, I had used WhatsApp for years. PHOTO CREDIT: DIMITRI KARASTELEV VIA UNSPLASH


Most of my friends were already active on Telegram but a select few of them refused to switch to the platform with me, arguing that they preferred to know if someone had deleted their messages.

Surprised by the differing opinions of my friends, I wanted to learn more about youths’ opinions on deleting their messages. 

I spoke to three youths to find out their opinions on disappearing messages on different messaging platforms.

Deleting messages is unethical

Polytechnic student Ruban Raj, 19, uses Telegram more as he finds that it is the fastest and most secure among all the messaging platforms available. 

However, unlike most Telegram users, he dislikes the function of deleting messages without a trace. 

He said: “I think the lack of notifications makes people feel they can hide their tracks easily, which leads to them misusing the feature and being irresponsible. Someone might have sent something really rude, but they can just delete it without any consequences.”


Ruban only deletes messages when he makes typos and only deletes conversations when no longer in contact with someone. PHOTO CREDIT: UJESH VIA UNSPLASH


He cited his personal experience when he had exchanged flirty messages with a girl. He didn’t think much of it as he thought they were both single, but she later deleted the messages to hide them from her boyfriend.

Although he still prefers Telegram to WhatsApp for its convenience, he wishes Telegram would notify users when a message has been deleted in a manner akin to WhatsApp.

Grateful for the function to delete messages

On the other hand, 19-year-old undergraduate Yvette Wong thinks that WhatsApp’s notifications for deleted messages defeat their purpose – and make a conversation awkward. 


Yvette is alright with not knowing about deleted messages on Telegram as “ignorance is bliss”. PHOTO CREDIT: DIMITRI KARASTELEV VIA UNSPLASH


She regularly uses the deleting function when she accidentally says something dumb, when she sends a message to the wrong chat, when reorganising her thoughts and when she feels guilty after gossiping.

She even credits the deleting function for saving her friendships. 

“Once or twice when I was really upset with someone, I sent a chunk of messages. After I calmed down, I realised that wasn’t wise, so I deleted them,” she said.

In spite of her love for the deleting function, Yvette does not delete her friends’ messages – except as a joke – or old conversations with people she matched with on dating applications. 

She said: “Many people from dating apps delete our conversation, but I feel like that makes them look stupid. Just take pride in whatever conversations you’ve had with me.”


After getting to know someone from dating applications, Yvette normally transitions to texting them on Telegram. PHOTO CREDIT: PRATIK GUPTA VIA UNSPLASH


She believes that the deleting function allows for a “more candid and careless form of conversation”. Instead of carefully crafting a message in case it stays on the receiver’s device forever, she likes typing whatever comes to mind, making her texts a better reflection of a casual, genuine in-person conversation.

Wanting proper conversations without deleted messages

Similarly, Pang Ka Wing compares texting to having a real conversation. However, unlike Yvette, she is not fond of deleting messages for the precise reason of wanting to have a proper conversation.

While the 18-year-old does delete messages when she makes typos or to clarify things, she is against people deleting messages to take back their words.

She said: “If you messed up by sending something you didn’t want, then you shouldn’t be able to take it back, just like in real life. At the least, you should get notified if someone deleted their message.”

Ka Wing prefers for WhatsApp to notify others when someone has deleted a message, as she believes the other party has the right to know when someone has almost said something to them. 

“It goes both ways. The person I talk to will also know that I deleted something, so it’s mutual,” she said.


Ka Wing prefers having accountability for messages, as she dislikes not knowing what may have happened. PHOTO CREDIT: RAYCHAN VIA UNSPLASH

Being responsible texters

Ka Wing was quick to say that, no matter the platform, deleting messages only deletes the message for users involved, but does not delete the messages already stored in the app’s system. If needed, authorities can still retrieve messages from the system.

“Think before you press send,” Ka Wing advised. “You should ensure you read your messages thoroughly before sending, particularly in any confrontations or more professional situations.”

Yvette supported that point, saying that whatever you put out on the Internet is here to stay – with or without a delete function


Yvette pointed out that it takes two seconds to delete a message, but screenshots can be captured in a split second. PHOTO CREDIT: YURA FRESH VIA UNSPLASH


In the same vein, Ruban emphasised that you should never send anything that you don’t wish to be caught saying.

He said: “Assume everyone can see whatever you send. If it’s something you feel you’ll be in trouble for if you get caught, don’t send it in the first place.”

Above all, Yvette noted that you should always be respectful in general. After all, having respect for others in real life translates to having the same responsibility online. 

She said: “Responsibility online comes just as naturally as it does in real life. Just like how one wouldn’t force their friends in real life to do something, one shouldn’t send unsolicited nudes irresponsibly, since that forces the other party to see something they don’t want to see. 

“Online responsibility shouldn’t be a precautionary thing due to the lack of a delete button.”

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