back to article Class clowns literally classless: Harvard axes meme-flinging morons

At least ten students due to start at Harvard this fall have had their admission offers torn up – after they swapped offensive piffle online. Specifically, the cyber-garbage was posted on the official Harvard College Class of 2021 Facebook group, set up for applicants who have been accepted by the Ivy League university. Some …

  1. Cris E
    Holmes

    The one good thing about social media...

    ...is how easy it makes it to spot dumb people. Wow.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Humor vs. Stupid

      "I appreciate humor, but there are so many topics that just should not be joked about,"

      Just ask Kathy Griffin.

      1. This post has been deleted by a moderator

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Humor vs. Stupid

          >there are so many topics that just should not be joked about,

          No there aren't

          1. F111F

            Re: Humor vs. Stupid

            GFP: See Don Rickles...he often offended everyone in the audience with one joke or another, yet we all still laughed. I had the privilege of seeing him live in Las Vegas a few decades ago...wonderful show!

          2. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

            Re: Humor vs. Stupid

            ">there are so many topics that just should not be joked about,

            No there aren't"

            I guess if you are unempathetic you might feel that to be the case. Also, you might feel secure behind your keyboard, but the acid test is whether you'd have an 'anything goes' attitude in public. I bet you wouldn't.

            1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

              Re: Humor vs. Stupid

              i feel that your comment on my personal beliefs is an example of cyber-bullying - please report to your local ministry of truth fro reprogramming

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Humor vs. Stupid

              the acid test is whether you'd have an 'anything goes' attitude in public. I bet you wouldn't.

              I wouldn't pull my todger out in public, yet I do pull it out every day when I take a piss.

              This wasn't about what should not be said in public, this was about what should not be said at all, ever.

              1. werdsmith Silver badge

                Re: Humor vs. Stupid

                What is it with memes anyway? Most of them make no sense.

                They must be for people who are unable to express themselves in words.

              2. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

                Re: Humor vs. Stupid

                "I wouldn't pull my todger out in public, yet I do pull it out every day when I take a piss."

                You never use public toilets then? Got some hangup? See, we can both be pedants, and hopefully you recognise it doesn't advance the discussion.

        2. Richard Jones 1
          WTF?

          Re: Humor vs. Stupid

          What is this stupid use of the one time underworld term snitch? I guess you would be saying the same about someone known to be planning any sort of criminal enterprise? I can just imagine you sitting somewhere hearing that a bomb has gone off or a person has been stabbed and robbed when you could have reported what you know and prevented the crime. Ah well at least you would not have been a snitch.

          Sorry grow up, criminals need no protection from the consequences of their actions. With people questioning why radicalisation is not being stopped - (and I mean in all of its vile forms, left, right, religious and plain stupid) the 'dumb arse' oh you must not be a snitch response, is nothing more than dumb arse writ large.

          We need people prepared to stand up and be honest and far fewer stupid fools who think extremism of any form is fine by them . The 'Oh and let us have a cheap laugh at the though of assaulting someone because of their colour, religion, race, poorness richness (or add in your own pet hate) to the hate brew mix' is not OK by some who can still think.

          Perhaps I am the only one who thinks Jessica the honest should instantly qualify for a humanities qualification, perhaps with a side order of philosophy as garnish.

        3. nijam

          Re: Humor vs. Stupid

          > "... there are so many topics that just should not be joked about,"

          Free speech might or might not be one of them.

    2. Daedalus Silver badge

      Re: The one good thing about social media...

      This is Hahvahd we're talking about. The qualifications are like Oxbridge: money or high intelligence, both accepted at a pinch. So "dumb" is not likely to apply, and the money students wouldn't be facing expulsion, such is the way of the world.

      What's more interesting is how postings from a private group leaked to the point where TPTB could see them. Somebody snitched?

      1. Cris E

        Re: The one good thing about social media...

        Dumb is most certainly likely to apply, moreso when your life protects you from most consequences. For example, what sort of idiot thought they could post some of those things in the main group without a second look? Who imagined there wasn't going to be a snitch? What kind of response was expected once this mess came to light?

        Just because your money or connections can get you out of trouble doesn't mean you lack the native gifts to get into the ditch in the first place. Dumb has as much to do with common sense as intelligence.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        FAIL

        Re: The one good thing about social media...

        Does any one read past the first paragraph these days?

        "What's more interesting is how postings from a private group leaked to the point where TPTB could see them. Somebody snitched?"

        From the article itself:

        "A number of students went to the uni's authorities, who stepped in to examine the allegations."

      3. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

      Re: The one good thing about social media...

      "I appreciate humor [sic], but there are so many topics that just should not be joked about,"

      I don't think so - really there are very very few, but context, timing and audience is everything. Often joking about bad things is how people deal with them. There's a world of difference between laughing at someone's problem and laughing with them. The Maltesers ad?

    4. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: THe Problem with Social Media

      Is that it allows you to see just how many ignorant people there are out there, something that I would prefer to be ignorant about......

  2. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    While I fully applaud the effort to clean up this sewer, two points I see:

    a) Kicking out the students involved was not an intelligent way to go about this. I can envisage several more onerous ways of re-indoctrinating Da Yoofs while still milking them for their fees,

    2) The offended young lady who joined these fora: Did she actually post anything or was she there just to be offended?

    Teaching students that Free Speech does not exist on the internet is a great thing. I support all efforts to throw a bucket of cold reality over anyone who thinks otherwise.

    But semi-professional outrage is becoming tedious, and can end in such unpleasant side-effects as the election of the Clown Car Caucus to real power.

    As for Kathy Griffin: Same applies. Make her sit in the unpopular corner for a bit by all means. Voting with yer feet is always an option (at least for now). But save me the fake outrage over a fake chopped-off head that looked nothing like OPOTUS. Nobody seriously thinks she has an army of people waiting to assault Mara Lago to remove anyone's head.

    Well, I say that but given the utter tripe I've heard people declaring as true in the last year I suppose there might be a few dolts who do think that.

    1. Cris E

      Re: Bah!

      A little agree, a little not so much.

      Kathy Griffin was dumb and not funny and got abused online, but she doesn't deserve the amount of crap she's received. But these weren't a bunch of random strangers who met on 4chan. These were hand-picked by the august institution to constitute the next class and acting as a group. They had no context outside of that, so when it came to light (and who expected it not to?) the school was put into a spot where they could say "Yup, those are our cherubs!" or "Whoa, OK, they aren't in yet, right?"

      What was going to happen? Expect stuff like this to come to light, especially in a university context where kids are just starting to flex their voices. Expect large organizations to make the expedient PR move rather than defend stuff like pinata baby jokes. Expect rich kids who could get into Harvard to come out of this just fine.

    2. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      Re: Bah!

      Kicking out the students involved was not an intelligent way to go about this

      Harvard's first priority is its reputation. If it doesn't have a good reputation, donations, rich parents sending their darlings there, etc. will soon dry up. Allowing students with such views in, would be a very brave (or foolish!) thing to do.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Free Speech does not exist on the internet

      They weren't arrested. Free speech was exercised.

      1. nijam

        Re: Free Speech does not exist on the internet

        > Free speech was exercised

        The word is "excised".

        1. Eddy Ito Silver badge

          Re: Free Speech does not exist on the internet

          Excised? I think you're confused. Harvard exercised its freedom of association rights just as the applicants exercised their right to free speech. The only thing excised was Harvard from the relationship with the applicants in question.

    4. Rob D.

      Re: Bah!

      They didn't kick out the students involved - they kicked out those who had crossed whatever line they determined defined inappropriate aka stoopid behaviour. A written job offer would probably go up in smoke if you managed to transgress acceptable levels of behaviour before joining a new company.

      And perhaps the young lady quoted had joined in mid-December and the offensive content only started to appear later. Bit presumptuous to assert that she was just being a snowflake especially if we haven't seen the contentious content.

      Free Speech is possible on the Internet - this story just demonstrates that someone exercising their right to also be a complete prat does sometimes have consequences which is the valuable lesson. No semi-professional offense-taking required.

      1. LaeMing Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: Bah!

        Actually, Free Speech (TM) is extremely easy and well supported on the internet.

        It is just that being held accountable for what you freely speak is also well supported.

        1. Stevie Silver badge

          Re: Bah!

          But it isn't a right guaranteed by an old piece of parchment, more of a "let things go on until they go too far" affair. It is entirely at the discretion of those who own the platform.

          Not the same thing at all.

      2. Stevie Silver badge

        Re: Bah!

        "They didn't kick out the students involved - they kicked out those who had crossed whatever line they determined defined inappropriate aka stoopid behaviour."

        And in doing so they opened themselves to the old "Select ten peasants and make an example of them" abuse of power charges.

        Look, I'm not saying what these idiots did was acceptable. But isn't one purpose of a University to widen the student's perceptions and open them to new ideas? Including how to be adult and know when to keep schtum?

        Does anyone really think anything good will come of this action? Or is it possible that now we have a group of young people convinced that they were victimized for their out-of-mainstream opinions and denied their future over it?

        Look around - look what happens when such people gather together and make their voices heard at the right (or wrong) time. They may not be the only ones rubbing their hands in glee but they were part of the claque that enacted Operation Fuck-Em Where They Beathe.

        There were cleverer options open to the supposedly intelligent people holding court.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Bah!

          For all we know the young ones will look back in thirty years and say, "Just think, if I had wound up going to Harvard I'd still be paying off that stupid student loan. What? Oh. Sorry, the robot that makes the curly fries just broke, did you want onion rings or regular fries instead?"

    5. BarryUK

      Re: Bah!

      Sorry, how is this a free speech issue? The government is not going to lock anyone up for what they said. Free speech doesn't mean complete impunity. Private individuals and organisations are perfectly free to take any legal actions they like as a response to what you say. That's freedom too.

    6. fajensen Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Bah!

      2) The offended young lady who joined these fora: Did she actually post anything or was she there just to be offended?

      The Social Media Singularity is this: Everyone on social media is there specifically to be offended and to offend others, while ratting out all of the offensives to moderators and authorities.

      PS:

      It is a plot forged from the globalist cabal of "World Improvers", those that gave us "Arab Spring" and "Iraqi WMD's"

      While the unreasonable people are thus fully occupied, world peace is theoretically possible - except they brainiacs who came up with this plan forgot that the unreasonable are commonly also unreasoning, thus they cannot distinguish "Digital" from "Reality" and they carry their rage over being offended into the real world.

    7. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Slightly excessive punishment

      While the applicants' behaviour and their topics for "humour" sound quite reprehensible, I can't help but think that the punishment seems rather excessive.

      These are 16 - 18 year old teenagers. We've all been there (possibly some Reg readers still are, in fact), and we all know that a lot of teenagers (of any gender) can essentially be total dicks. At that age we often still find inappropriate things funny (or are encouraged to do so in order to feel part of a group (peer pressure), teenage life can still be hard and confusing, and you are still trying to find out who you are). You would hope that school and parental education would do a better job nowadays to discourage any sort of discriminatory behaviour from early childhood onwards, but we know that that doesn't always happen, and some people mature later than others (if at all).

      A better solution would surely have been to demand a public apology from the applicants and make it implicit and explicit that their behaviour at the university might be watched a little more closely than others.

      If they are still fratboy dicks after their first year and haven't learned how to be more properly adult, then they can potentially be chucked out if they continue to breach the university's rules of student conduct, and at least the university will have got a year's fees out of them.

      There are (sadly) bound to be as many students at Harvard (and elsewhere) who will behave just as dickishly while there, but will hopefully turn into responsible adults (although some sadly won't), but who by sheer luck weren't foolish enough to act up online at this point in time. It seems a bit unfair not to give these applicants at least one chance to make a mistake and then try to redeem themselves.

  3. mrobaer
    Childcatcher

    Student Code of Conduct

    Wouldn't there be a code of conduct that these students-to-be would have agreed to? Either way, free speech can be costly. I'll consider it a lesson for all to learn from. But I doubt much will be learned. It seems like every week there's news of people getting let go for social media antics.

    1. Stevie Silver badge

      Re: Student Code of Conduct

      Social Media has become The Clap of the Digital Age: no matter who initiates the interaction, everyone comes away scratching their crotch and vowing "never again".

      Employers abuse their position when they scrape (there is no more appropriate verb) social media to dig up the dirt on a prospective hire.

      Young would-be employees retain an idiotic naivety when it comes to using social media platforms, behaving on-line in an exaggeratedly juvenile manner, then have the nerve to act surprised when they're found out.

      Somewhere in the middle is a happy medium in which juvenile behavior can be forgiven - up to a point - and employers understand that without a safety valve the boiler can blow with catastrophic results.

      Bring on the EMP.

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Student Code of Conduct

      It seems like every week there's news of people getting let go for social media antics.

      I'd lay odds that the "social media antic" was the justification but that many of them were already on a "hit" list.

  4. DNTP

    At least they were stopped now,

    rather than in four years when those kid's parents end up suing companies that reject their little Johnny's first job application after seeing what a quick google search turns up...

  5. J.Smith

    Reputations

    Harvard has a fine reputation, George W'ya is a Harvard graduate.

    1. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

      Re: Reputations

      Actually anther Imbecile League - Yale. The Bushes are originally from Connecticut.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Reputations

      While George W. did get an MBA from Harvard, he was only there 2 years and is generally considered a Yale man. Obama was a Harvard man too, even editor Harvard Law Review. They are two of the 7 former US Presidents with Harvard degrees.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nobody loves a snitch.

    1. Maryland, USA
      Thumb Up

      Um, I do

      Snitches like the brother who turned in America's Unabomber after recognizing his rants in the New York Times. Snitches like parents in the UK and the USA who warn the police about their wayward sons.

  7. Nick Kew Silver badge
    Coat

    So what would Harvard have to say about the Bullingdon club and necroporcophilia?

  8. Florida1920

    It's called "drawing the line"

    If we don't set limits and examples for privileged young people, we'll keep getting this:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethan_Couch

    1. Brenda McViking

      Re: It's called "drawing the line"

      What, because sharing a bad taste image on facebook is in any way equatable to death by drink-driving?

      Privilege might the reason some undergrads will be accepted. The others are probably rather clever, and many will be present on some part of the autistic spectrum as well - and there is a higher chance such people may well see nothing wrong with and actively seek out "darker" humour.

      However, there is an enormous difference between finding a bad-taste image funny and acting in a way which actually causes others harm. Undergrads are still very young adults and they will still be testing boundaries to find levels of societal acceptability. Extricating them from their academic lives before they've even started the course is extreme, particularly given that this is purely about sharing images (on a private group no less), something virtually every teen does on a daily basis.

      In my opinion this is a collosal overreaction based on theoretical offensiveness. Deserving of a reprimand? absolutely, but not more. This is from the same chain of thought that videogames cause killing sprees and books are corrupting the morals of the edwardian youth.

      1. Florida1920

        Re: It's called "drawing the line"

        In my opinion this is a collosal overreaction

        If we ignore 'pinata' jokes, offensive behavior becomes normalized, making it easier to take the next step, and the next, etc. Society, and the institutions within it, must draw a line. Or you wind up with a POTUS who bragged about being allowed (in his privileged mind) to sexually abuse women, and then goes on to.... oh, read the press!

      2. the Jim bloke Silver badge

        Re: It's called "drawing the line"

        " and they will still be testing boundaries to find levels of societal acceptability."

        Yep.

        Found em..

        As supposedly intelligent young adults they need to be aware of what they can get away with, and where... and anything associated with a professional organisation or status vendor is not the place to show how hard core politically incorrect you can be.

        Stupidity is its own reward

  9. Haku

    "I appreciate humor, but there are so many topics that just should not be joked about,"

    Has Jessica Zhang never seen a Jimmy Carr stand-up video?

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: "I appreciate humor, but there are so many topics that just should not be joked about,"

      Get her to one of his live shows so he can single her out for the treatment.

    2. Lamont Cranston

      Re: "Has Jessica Zhang never seen a Jimmy Carr stand-up video?"

      No one deserves to suffer that fate.

      1. Stratman

        Re: "Has Jessica Zhang never seen a Jimmy Carr stand-up video?"

        The only time I ever laughed at Jimmy Carr was when the taxman came a-calling.

  10. Rather Notsay

    USSA

    "several students in a private group chat". It is none of Harvard's business what their students discuss in private. This is why snitches get stitches.

    1. Kevin Johnston

      Re: USSA

      That 'private group chat' was on the Harvard web-boards so yes, it was their business as it breached their T&Cs

    2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Re: USSA

      "In private."

      On Facebook.

    3. Cris E
      Alert

      Re: USSA

      Get real. When they acted it cast a shadow on the brand, and the company will act in its own defense. Those kids were not "soccer players" or "from New York" or "4chan creeps" but "Harvard admittees". That's a Harvard logo on a story about pinata babies. Expect trouble.

  11. tiggity Silver badge

    Thought Police

    People have different views on what is offensive (or not).

    There is not a one size fits all definition of offensive.

    Unimpressed by the over reaction.

    1. LaeMing Silver badge

      Re: Thought Police

      It is their university, so they get to choose who gets in. If you had invited someone to a party at your house then found out they were an openly and extremely offensive person to the point that your association with them would make your other friends and associates less amiable towards you, would you still want that person to come?

  12. Adam 1 Silver badge

    I, for one, welcome our new Harvard University overlords.

    1. Cris E

      "New"? Where have you been?

  13. Milton Silver badge

    Draconian?

    I haven't seen the material mentioned but don't doubt it's as offensive as stated. That said, surely the context matters? In this case, context being that the posters in question are kids, full of overconfidence, cheek, peer groupthink and heedless hormonal impulses, who maybe—just maybe—would have benefited from a good talking to and a severe warning, leaving them appropriately humbled, embarrassed ... and much wiser?

    No matter how repugnant the memes in question may have been, you should surely have some regard for the foolishness of the young. It's not as if the offenders in this case were seasoned representatives of the people: we have a president who routinely broadcasts offensive drivel, and many members of his political party and administration publish shamelessly odious beliefs, and *they* are people who really should know better.

    So for me the punishment seems a draconian, rather heartless over-reaction. I would guess the decision-makers in this case are motivated by the predictable vices of hypocrisy and ass-covering.

    1. Cris E

      Re: Draconian?

      "That said, surely the context matters?"

      Yup, but not in the way you're implying. Harvard has an infinite supply of these kids, so setting a couple of them alight every year or two sets an example for the others and throws a lovely reddish light on them that drives away the shadows these memes were casting.

  14. imanidiot Silver badge

    No there aren't

    "I appreciate humor, but there are so many topics that just should not be joked about,"

    There exist no such topics. ANYTHING and EVERYTHING should be joked about. But there is a time a place and a context for each. Something like this Harvard group is not the place or context for this sort of thing.

    1. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

      Re: No there aren't

      "There exist no such topics. ANYTHING and EVERYTHING should be joked about."

      Just where does this modern misapprehension come from? A generation whose social interaction is largely played out from behind a keyboard? Try talking to people face to face and making off colour jokes, and see where that gets you,

      1. no-one in particular

        Re: No there aren't

        >> "There exist no such topics. ANYTHING and EVERYTHING should be joked about."

        > Just where does this modern misapprehension come from?

        >...Try talking to people face to face and making off colour jokes, and see where that gets you,

        Saying that there should be jokes about X does not imply that every joke about X should exist (be spoken out loud) and certainly not in every context/situation.

        Gallows humour will save your sanity when the gallows are looming but isn't appropriate at your toddler's tea party.

        Then again, some toddlers... and the parents... the gallows look quite friendly now.

    2. Mooseman Bronze badge

      Re: No there aren't

      " ANYTHING and EVERYTHING should be joked about."

      That depends on how it's done, really. If you post up a "joke meme" that says "haha look at all those jews burning", or some oh-so-witty one about a dead baby piñata, and then whine that your freedom of speech has been curtailed when it is removed along with your membership of a college, then frankly you deserve all you get.

      There is dark humour and there is plain crass stupidity. The modern thinking that anything is fair game is shallow self entitlement, nothing more. Yes you have freedom of speech, not freedom from consequence.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Reaping the Destruction of Education over 20 years by Neoliberals

    This article demonstrates just how successful the 20 year program by Neoliberals to destroy education has been when applications to the supposed elite private schools are completely clueless in terms of knowing what is socially acceptable speech, or knowing that you bear the responsibility for what you say.

    The US is currently playing out the film "Idiocracy", where the poorly educated don't understand science and elect crooks and con men who specialize in acting moronic while the 1% continues to rob everyone else blind.

    1. disgruntled yank Silver badge

      Re: Reaping the Destruction of Education over 20 years by Neoliberals

      "applications to the supposed elite private schools"...

      Did the Harvard application ask for the applicant's favorite ethnic joke?

    2. Cris E
      Stop

      Re: Reaping the Destruction of Education over 20 years by Neoliberals

      What a coincidence, this comment also illustrates the demise of considered, moderate thought in the western world.

      Not everything is black and white, not everything is the end of the world, not everything is a plot by The Others to ruin The Good Thing. Most of life occurs in shades of grey, individual situations don't always fit into broad, loud headlines, and most discussions benefit by a little thought and nuance.

      In this case, for example, a small group of the hundreds and hundreds of admitees acted in an manner unacceptable to their new community and were exposed by other new students from the same community. The entire group is not at fault here, as it self-policed. The entire group is not absolved of this either, as the stupidity did happen. Most of this is far more mundane than the Koch-fueled phantasms you managed to splash all over the place. Calm down.

  16. disgruntled yank Silver badge

    I have always wondered

    What sort of young man it is who never makes a fool of himself. Now I guess I know: the one who grows up to be a journalist and damn young men making fools of themselves.

  17. Sherrie Ludwig

    Such a tempest in a teapot

    OK, if I read correctly, so these kids were on a forum hosted by Harvard, and they started a group for memes on this forum, and they got really offensive and over the line. Were they physically injured? Were they heavily fined? Were they imprisoned? No, the host of the forum, Harvard, decided they weren't their sort after all, and rescinded their acceptances. Wow, they might actually have to go to (gasp) another college! Oh, the horror! Sounds like a very good use of self-selection criteria by a university to head off future problems, kudos to Harvard.

  18. Fading Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    Pix or it didn't happen

    Am I doing this right?

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The problem with free speech...

    ...is that those who exercise it the most are usually those with less thoughtful to say!

    See this site for an example...

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sounds like Suits Season 10.

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