It's a saying almost as old as social media itself: "Be careful what you post". Offensive and vulgar posts to Facebook in particular have cost people jobs, relationships and educations. The latest happened at Harvard University. Ten incoming freshmen had their acceptance to the school rescinded after administrators found offensive posts to a student Facebook group.
According to Harvard's student newspaper, "The Harvard Crimson", the students were part of an offshoot Facebook group that was originally part of an official Harvard Facebook page for the Class of 2021. According to a report in The Crimson, a group of members of that page created a smaller group of about 100 students and then began posting offensive 'memes'. Once administrators saw the posts, according to the report, they rescinded admissions offers to the students who had posted the obscene memes.
I reached out to recent Harvard graduate Joe Hall who continues to follow a Harvard University Facebook group and who, himself often posts memes to the group. Hall told me he agrees with the decision of the Harvard administrators and has a theory of how those memes came to their attention.
"They had to be told by someone in the group that saw these memes and thought 'you know what? I don't want these people going to my school," Hall said. "They had to be ratted out."
That's the thing about the internet, nothing is private. Even private messages between two people. No one else may see them right away but each and every post to social media, a chat room, message board, private group, even text messages, leave evidence behind.
"You've got to assume there's no privacy anymore," Hall said. "That's the world we're living in."
"It's fundamentally impossible for me to put an image in your eyes...you can take a picture with a smartphone camera of whatever it is you see with your own eyes. "
Context is also important. You may think a meme or post is amusing, but if that post can be taken out of context where it is offensive to someone else, it could pose problems. Should someone see it who would like to use it against you, all it will take is for the post to be shared with someone else.