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Harvard Rescinds Students Over Posts: How Can You Keep Your Students from Dangerous Posts?

In June, prospective Harvard students had their acceptance rescinded over racist and violent Facebook posts they left in a private group. In the wake of this story, how can parents and teachers raise awareness with their own students of their online reputations?
Harvard students expelled over their posts
By: Laurie Mega

According to the Harvard Crimson, Harvard University’s on-campus newspaper, at least 10 students of the class of 2021 have been asked not to join their fellow students at the prestigious school this fall. Their acceptance was rescinded after their private Facebook group, “Harvard memes for horny bourgeois teens,” was brought to the attention of the administration.

"It is a hard learned lesson that we hope other students and children will realize can happen to them. As parents, friends and educators we have to continue to drive home the message that the internet is not the private and safe place that children think it is." -- Patrick Craven, Director of the Center for Cyber Safety and Education

In it, incoming freshmen exchanged sexually inappropriate and racist memes that made light of rape, child abuse and violence against minorities.

Administrators have declined to comment on the status of the students in question or the meme group.

A Growing Trend

This is not the first time students have been disciplined or expelled from school for social media posts. There have been a number of cases across the country where students have been suspended for inappropriate comments on social media.

In 2016, a federal appeals court ruled in favor of Central Lakes College in Minnesota, which kicked out a student in 2012 for comments on Facebook it deemed “unprofessional and threatening,” according to Inside Higher Ed.

It's important for students to be safe on social media sitesThe cases, including that of the Harvard students, have set off a national debate over free speech and social media. But a bigger question looms for parents and teachers: How do you help students understand the staggering reach of social media and the importance of carefully considering what you share and do not share online?

Patrick Craven, Director for the Center for Cyber Safety and Education, drives the point home: “It is a hard learned lesson that we hope other students and children will realize can happen to them. As parents, friends and educators we have to continue to drive home the message that the internet is not the private and safe place that children think it is. You can never assume that what you say or post, or what others say and post about you, will remain private.”

Protecting Your Reputation Online

Here are some steps you can take to help students understand.

1) Google Yourself

Have students google themselves and see what kinds of links come up. Many people -- including kids -- operate under the assumption that anything they put online goes out into the ether and eventually disappears. With a simple google, students will see that’s not necessarily the case.

You may also want to introduce them to internet archive sites like The Wayback Machine, that have been taking snapshots of websites for the last 20 years.

2) Read the Fine Print

Images on social media can be shared as Facebook sees fitSit down with your student and go through the terms of social media sites like Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram. Pay particular attention to the image terms. Generally, by uploading an image to a site like Facebook, you are retaining the rights to the image, but giving permission to Facebook to distribute your images to third parties as they see fit.

3) Find a Good Example

The Harvard students are a great example of social media gone horribly wrong. And regardless of the heated free speech debate, it’s important for students to know that what they say and how they present themselves is seen by current and prospective schools and employers.

Think of some examples of things they would never say in class or write in a public place. Ask them if they see a difference between those spaces and social media.

4) Put Yourself in Their Shoes

Have your student come up with an example of a service or business they would search for online and come up with a list of the things they would look for in that service or business. Have them think of things they wouldn’t like to see from that business owner online.

Students learn how to put their best foot forward in college and job interviews and through their CVs, but many don’t consider their online reputation. Raising awareness of the consequences of their actions online is also an important step to securing their future. For more information on online safety, check out the Center for Cyber Safety and Education, and read their blog post on 3, 2, 1….Live: Facebook Live Safety for Kids.

Laurie MegaLaurie Mega is the managing editor of and Content Director of FEN Learning, its parent company. She is the author of the children's book Down the River, and has written several articles on child care, elder care, general family topics. She is also the mother of two toddler boys...She's kind of tired.

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