Harvard Memes Incident Is a Lesson for All of Us

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To loosely quote Babe Ruth from the movie The Sandlot, “Heroes get remembered, but screenshots never die.”

Comedian Joe Rogan described our current times by saying: “We’ve got a goddamn nerfed-up world filled with nonsense.” As such, meme culture – you know, those little online pictures with snarky captions – is actually a thing.

Unfortunately, memes are all fun and games until someone gets kicked out of college – as ten students accepted into Harvard’s class of 2021 learned in April.

Here’s what happened, from The Harvard Crimson:

“Harvard College rescinded admissions offers to at least ten prospective members of the Class of 2021 after the students traded sexually explicit memes and messages that sometimes targeted minority groups in a private Facebook group chat.

“A handful of admitted students formed the messaging group—titled, at one point, ‘Harvard memes for horny bourgeois teens’—on Facebook in late December, according to two incoming freshmen.

“In the group, students sent each other memes and other images mocking sexual assault, the Holocaust, and the deaths of children, according to screenshots of the chat obtained by The Crimson. Some of the messages joked that abusing children was sexually arousing, while others had punchlines directed at specific ethnic or racial groups. One called the hypothetical hanging of a Mexican child ‘piñata time.’

After discovering the existence and contents of the chat, Harvard administrators revoked admissions offers to at least ten participants in mid-April, according to several members of the group.”

Above all else, this is just further proof that whatever you put out on the Internet nowadays better be something you’re prepared to stand behind in front of an admissions office, employer or anyone else.

While adolescents, a demographic often suffering from short-sightedness, are certainly the most likely group to seriously stunt their futures with online behavior, Kathy Griffin recently learned this lesson the hard way too. Just a few days before the story out of Harvard broke, Griffin released a photo of herself holding a faux Donald Trump head, which was covered in blood as if it had been beheaded, by the hair.

Naturally, the blowback to her very intentional decision to release that picture for the world to see was harsh. The Secret Service hit her up, she got fired from CNN and she lost a whole bunch of gigs.

And she blamed it all on Donald Trump.

“I don’t think I will have a career after this. He broke me,” she rambled at a press conference with her attorney, trying to blame her woes on anyone but herself. “A sitting president of the United States and his grown children and the first lady are personally trying to ruin my life forever. You guys know him, he’s not going to stop.”

The key difference between the *almost* Harvard students and Griffin is that these kids weren’t broadcasting their memes to a mass audience in the way Griffin did. They were, despite the provocative-at-best nature of their Facebook group’s content, a bunch of presumably 17 and 18 year olds just messing around. One student quoted by The Crimson, who was not in the group but had general knowledge of it said: “This was a just-because-we-got-into-Harvard-doesn’t-mean-we-can’t-have-fun kind of thing.”

Either way, there’s not much else the Harvard administrators could have done once these screenshots hit their desk. The school has a policy, written in the description of the class of 2021 Facebook group, which reads, “Harvard College reserves the right to withdraw an offer of admission under various conditions including if an admitted student engages in behavior that brings into question his or her honesty, maturity, or moral character.”

What were they going to do? Not withdraw admission to the kids posting child abuse and Holocaust jokes?

This isn’t a free speech issue, by the way. Harvard has the right to regulate the moral character of those associated with its organization, just as does any other private entity.

While these kids deserve some sympathy, they certainly got what was coming to them. Let’s hope, for their sake, that they learned their lesson here and will never make the same kind of mistakes again.

To loosely quote Babe Ruth from the movie The Sandlot, “Heroes get remembered, but screenshots never die.”

Tyler Olson is a student at the Pennsylvania State University studying broadcast journalism and political science. He has written for The Daily Collegian.

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