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Harvard Rescinds Admissions Offers After Incoming Freshmen Post Offensive Memes

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It’s 2017, and what you do on the Internet has real-life ramifications. No one should internalize this message more than the group of students who gained admission to one of America’s most elite institutions only to lose their place because of behavior on Facebook.

At least 10 students have had their Harvard offers retracted after participating in a splinter meme group chat that grew out of a larger, unofficial Facebook group for the incoming class of 2021. They called the group “Harvard memes for horny bourgeois teens.” What could go wrong?

The qualifications for being accepted amongst the horny bourgeois consisted of proving oneself worthy by posting “provocative” memes to the larger group. Offensive images: so bold and daring! So modern! Perhaps these children are just discovering 4chan. According to Vox, once in the secret group, the content fast escalated, “ranging from Holocaust jokes and racist descriptions of Mexicans, Middle Eastern children, and illegal immigrants, to jokes about death, bestiality, pedophilia, and child abuse.” The crème de la crème of our youth, ladies and gentlemen.

After concerned students emailed screenshots to Harvard authorities, the university investigated, and—somewhat to my surprise—this resulted in a double handful of rescinded offers. As Vox points out, another incident involving offensive content last year with the incoming class of 2020 did not result in disciplinary action, with the college’s official stance then that the students were not yet matriculated and the activity independent of Harvard affiliation.

Whether the content was just too horrific this go-round to give a pass, or new rules are in place for handling hateful speech no matter how vehemently participants claim that it’s for the lulz, Harvard’s decision sets a precedent. Hopefully it will give young people pause in considering that their activity online is not in a vacuum, but has real world consequences (I’m not holding my breath, having once been young and online). These are the sort of students that have likely spent years working hard for good grades and at extracurriculars, all lost because they just couldn’t help themselves from showing off their cleverness in choosing the grossest content possible. It’s difficult to muster much sympathy.

While I’m passionate about defending freedom of speech, it doesn’t take a Harvard degree to figure out that posting potentially illegal, and extremely hateful and obscene material is stupid, misguided and should rightfully result in a University response. At the least, these kids need to learn that if you want to be an incredible asshole online, do it anonymously. Welcome to the Internet, Harvard ’21.

(via Vox, image: Shutterstock)

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Kaila is a lifelong New Yorker. She's written for io9, Gizmodo, New York Magazine, The Awl, Wired, Cosmopolitan, and once published a Harlequin novel you'll never find.