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You think that post is secret? Beware – it can come back and bite you

'Once posted, forever toasted': as 10 would-be Harvard students learned, it pays to be careful about what you say online and where you say it

The Class of 2021 at Harvard was just reduced by at least 10.

According to campus paper The Harvard Crimson, the students had formed a secret group on Facebook called “Harvard memes for horny bourgeois teens”, as an unofficial offshoot of the Class of 2021 Facebook Group. The Crimson goes on to report how the messages within this group contained sexually explicit materials, “jokes” about sexually abusing children and items directed at specific ethnic and racial groups. Harvard Admissions Office, upon learning of the existence of the group, reached out to participating prospective students in mid-April and asked each to provide the content which they posted to the secret group.

The Crimson shared a portion of the email sent to each of these students:

The Admissions Committee was disappointed to learn that several students in a private group chat for the Class of 2021 were sending messages that contained offensive messages and graphics. As we understand you were among the members contributing such material to this chat, we are asking that you submit a statement by tomorrow at noon to explain your contributions and actions for discussion with the Admissions Committee.

To its credit, Harvard provided fair warning in the official Facebook group for the class of 2021 concerning “unofficial groups” and the potential consequences for unacceptable behavior.

This group is managed by the Harvard College Admissions & Financial Aid Office. We are not responsible for any unofficial groups, chats, or the content within. As a reminder, Harvard College reserves the right to withdraw an offer of admission under various conditions including if an admitted student engages in behavior that brings into question his or her honesty, maturity, or moral character.

What can we all learn from this episode? It’s that social media policies and guides exist for a reason.

The direct lesson is that at least 10 putative members of the Class of 2021 received: you are responsible for what you post on a social network and you will be held accountable for that posting. That’s an important lesson for individuals of all age groups.

The second lesson is that if you post anything online, be it in a private super-secret group or within a private chat with an individual, there is a very real risk that this information will grow legs and come back to visit you in the future.

This lesson is repeated time and time again. The admissions team became aware of the content of this secret group when they were provided screenshots; so too was The Crimson. Secrets in general are difficult to keep secret. As Benjamin Franklin reminds us, “Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead.”

I have a voice

When you post, on any social network you might think your post is totally appropriate, yet others may view your posting as tasteless or offensive. The recipient determines how they feel about your posting, not you. Feelings are personal – you don’t argue about those; rather, you discuss the cause. Therefore, by all means use the social networks as a means to let loose and vent, such is the beauty of free speech. It does, however, carry with it the responsibility to own your words.

And one last thing. Remember, when you post that photo or diatribe during cocktail hour, it may be presented to you when you least expect it, proving once again, that when it comes to social networks, the adage of “Once posted, forever toasted” still applies.



So you’re saying private conversations (as much as the internet can provide) is subject to the wrath of snowflakes if they can find it.
Although I do agree that the school is well within their rights to exclude anyone for any reason they see fit. Just like a business shouldn’t have to bake a cake with content on it they don’t agree with. Hmm, reality is a twisted cruel thing.


One thing to remember about “snowflakes”…they may seem small and fragile, but put enough of them together and they can form an avalanche that can wipe out the biggest and baddest obstacle.

Better to refrain from childish labels and be clear about whom you are referring.


Mahn — Thanks for the comment and question. I am saying that once a comment is shared, even in a private conversation, the content may grow legs if the other person(s) in the private conversation opt to share it … not rendering judgement on who’s who.

And you are spot-on: Reality is a twisted cruel thing.



I think some of the problem is captured in this comment from a student in the article on the Crimson

“On the one hand, I think people can post whatever they want because they have the right to do that,” Luca said.

Yes, you can post almost anything you want but that post may have ramifications also your actions can reflect poorly on other people and they may not like that.

I support Harvard’s response.


Or just dump facebook…

My life is so much easier!


Many of my family members have done just that .. they have chosen to eschew social networks, likening it to placing one’s self inside a fishbowl to be gawked at …

Enjoy life!


It’s true, freedom of speech means you are free to say anything you want, be it truthful or otherwise. But along with that freedom comes bearing the responsibility for what you say. No one is free from that.

Words have power…sometimes when they go out and sometimes when they come back.


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