Like many other teenagers, I am part of multiple group chats. From groups of three to groups of 100 and various numbers in between. Group chats are usually great because they make planning easier, help friends keep in touch, and help make sure everyone is on the same page, but group chats can also be damaging.
Over the summer one of the most prestigious schools in the United States withdrew ten acceptances for offensive memes in a private Facebook group chat. One hundred members of the incoming freshman class for Harvard created a messaging group where the students could share memes about popular culture.
At first, the chat was harmless, but then a few members decided to make a separate chat from the main one where “R-rated” pictures and memes could be sent. To be admitted into the smaller chat the students had to post the most provocative memes in the main chat. They exchanged memes and pictures mocking the Holocaust, sexual assaults, and specific ethnicities. One called the hypothetical hanging of a Mexican child “piñata time.” At one point, the chat was called “Harvard memes for horny bourgeois teens,” and “General F**kups.”
When the university caught on, at least ten of the incoming students that had been participating in the racist and offensive chat received letters that their offers of admission had been revoked. Harvard publicly stated that admission acceptances are subject to withdrawal if the admitted student “engages or has engaged in behavior that brings into question their honesty, maturity, or moral character.”
Incidents like this one happen all the time, even in our own backyard. Recently, the Florida International University (FIU) fraternity Tau Kappa Epsilon was suspended over a group chat’s anti-Semitic memes, rape jokes such as “it’s not rape if she enjoys it”, nude photos, messages about buying cocaine and adderall, calling the sorority sisters “sluts” and the mocking of a sorority girl that had died over the summer.
One student asked another to share a naked picture of a 17 year old girl, “I wanna feel like a ped,” he sent. In September, a Virginia Tech student, suspended for making school shooting and death comments in a Facebook group chat, settled a lawsuit after claiming freedom of speech.. A couple of weeks ago, the University of Louisiana Monroe fraternity was also suspended over racist comments in a group chat. And back in October 2015, Massachusetts high school students were suspended over racist texts mocking their newly elected black senior class president.
This is a massive problem happening to students everywhere. Technology is improving every day which is making students, college and high school, more comfortable with writing harmful things with confidence that it will not be traced back to them. Nothing disappears after you hit that send button. Not even on our beloved Snapchat.
We live in a world where even our own president says and tweets whatever he wants without giving it a second thought. Words and hurt people, so even with society today, you cannot say whatever you want. Colleges are right to punish the students that take part in this awful group chat epidemic.
Technology has spurred a meme culture that has helped normalize offensive jokes. However, it is not surprising given memes first began on Reddit, where people used them specifically to make offensive comments about other people. Humor based on racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination is not funny even within the confines of a group chat. Even if you will not be punished by an institution, these “jokes” normalize this rhetoric when it should not be normalized.