Almost a dozen Harvard-bound freshmen will have to make new arrangements for matriculation this fall thanks to their online speech.

Ten students had their acceptances to Harvard revoked because of offensive messages and mean memes created online recently. 

Apparently, some students started an online messaging group titled “Harvard memes for horny bourgeois teens” on Facebook in December. Incoming students could prove their skills at making funny memes and images. However, students began sending images that mocked the Holocaust, sexual assault, and abusing children. One meme reportedly called the hanging of a Mexican child “piñata time.”

Members of the original group claim, the images and messages were largely clean and ”lighthearted,” but then others launched a splinter group to share more explicit content.

The Harvard Crimson reports:

"Messages shared in the original group were mostly “lighthearted,” wrote [Jessica] Zhang, who said she did not post in the splitoff meme group and that her admission offer was not rescinded. But some members soon suggested forming “a more R-rated” meme chat, according to Cassandra Luca ’21, who joined the first meme group but not the second, and who also said her offer was not revoked. 

Luca said the founders of the “dark” group chat demanded that students post provocative memes in the larger messaging group before allowing them to join the splinter group.

“They were like, ‘Oh, you have to send a meme to the original group to prove that you could get into the new one,’” Luca said. “This was a just-because-we-got-into-Harvard-doesn’t-mean-we-can’t-have-fun kind of thing.”

The Admissions Committee then contacted group members asking for a statement explaining what each person contributed, said, or did as part of the discssion. There were over a 100 students participating in the online group.

This is the second year in a row that Harvard has revoked acceptances of incoming freshmen for exchanging offensive messages.

According to national reports, colleges do revoke acceptances for poor grades, disciplinary problems, and lying on thier application. Revocations for online content may be a new category as colleges seek to weed out offensive behavior online.

At the end of the day, this boils down to personal resposibility. If students engage in behavior that a private college deems unacceptable they have to be prepared to suffer the consequences. This is not unlike applying for a job, where potential employers may view your social media accounts to better understand the kind of person they are considering hiring.

We should hope though that this type of screening doesn't become a slippery slope into screening other types of activities such as political participation and philosophical dperspective. Espousing views on issues that run counter to the mainstream on climate change or the role of government shouldn't open the door to discrimination of thought. There's no indication of that in this case, but something to be mindful of.

Out of the 40,000 applications to the Class of 2021, Harvard accepted just 2,056 (about 5 percent). On the bright side, a few waitlisted students may now have a chance to attend the world’s top college thanks to the actions of a few students.