Many high-school students can only dream of getting into an Ivy League college. These students got in — to Harvard, no less — but then acted in a way that caused the school to revoke their acceptance letters.
At least 10 would-be incoming freshmen at Harvard University’s undergraduate entity, Harvard College, had their admissions rescinded in mid-April, after the school discovered messages they were exchanging in a private Facebook
group chat that included racially and sexually abusive images, according to the student newspaper the Harvard Crimson.
After Harvard set up an official Class of 2021 group, the 10 students in question created their own “R-rated” group. The content there — “memes” consisting of photos with large captions scrawled across them — ridiculed the Holocaust, minorities and the death of children.
“Think before you post — this is avoidable,” said Peg Samuel, founder of digital marketing and strategies firm Social Diva Media in New York. “Most people do have something to lose.”
Rachael Dane, a spokeswoman for Harvard College, said the school doesn’t publicly comment on the admissions status of individual applicants, but the school’s policies show it reserves the right to withdraw any admissions offer.
Social media can be a dangerous place for students and employees, as well as prospective students and employees. Companies check social-media accounts on such platforms as Facebook
and even YouTube
to learn more about applicants and see how they portray themselves online. Just as revealing political stances can be a wrong move for potential employees, students and applicants, too, should be mindful of the photos and other content they share online.
But it goes beyond posting unflattering pictures — in an attempt to be funny or to go viral, people posting memes and other such content can easily make harmful missteps. The comedian Kathy Griffin, most recently, offended many people when she posted an image of herself holding a bloody mask resembling President Donald Trump — in response, some of her upcoming comedy shows were canceled, and she was fired from her job co-hosting CNN’s New Year’s Eve coverage.
Social-media companies, including Facebook, are starting to target explicit content — the company announced earlier this year it planned to hire 3,000 people to remove violent posts and hate speech by using new tools it’s creating, and will be working with law enforcement, as well. Twitter doesn’t ban graphic or violent content, but such material may be marked as sensitive media.
Online posts, even when occurring in private conversations, can easily become public, Samuel said, because anyone can take and pass along a screen shot of an image or text. Even a harmless post could be taken the wrong way, since a person’s audience may not read or see the content as the poster intended. “Sometimes the tone is lost, sarcasm is lost and intention is lost,” Samuel said. “What you’re posting can be totally different from what you’re saying.”