An Open Letter to Facebook and Harvard
Dear Mr. Zuckerberg and anyone who will listen at Harvard University,
After news broke about the students who had their admissions rescinded after posting deplorable memes on Facebook, two distinct ways to view what has happened have evolved. One side feels that Harvard was justified in its decision and applauds the steps taken to hold the students who lacked judgment accountable for their posts. Others are concerned that this firm stance will hamper the free speech that makes universities melting pots of conversation and ideas.
I see merit in free speech but can also identify with a school that wants their reputation to remain above board and school community to exclude hateful speech. I would like to offer another alternative for those on both sides of the debate, education.
No matter which side of the argument you identify with, the fact is that social media and its implications are not going to diminish or go away. Students need to know that what they post is a reflection of themselves, their university, or their workplace. If an employee had posted one of the memes that were seen on the Harvard page they would be fired, there are numerous real-world examples of that outcome. No school or business wants its brand tarnished by those who are ultimately extensions of their brand. It’s a tough lesson to learn, one that I do not believe most kids or adults fully understand. The recent news of Jean Chu, the dean of the Yale University’s Pierson College, whose racist rants on Yelp have left her prominent position in jeopardy illustrates this point. Chu thought she could hide behind her Yelp alias and act out online with impunity. She was wrong, and so were the students whose Harvard applicants have been rescinded.
Just because someone uses social media does not mean they know how to use it properly. Let’s start teaching kids how to use social media in school properly. Let’s teach kids that anonymity online does not exist and explain the scope of the audience for which they are providing content. Educated social media users will be the next deans, politicians, and community members and will likely think about self-censoring what might be offensive to others before they post. Punishment is understandable, but prevention is the key and prevention will only be achieved with education.
I am appealing to Mr. Zuckerberg and Facebook to help fund the effort to teach kids how to use social media properly. We have a solution that will educate students about the implications and opportunities that social media provides. Facebook reaps the cash-infused rewards of having teen members; take the time and money to teach them.
Harvard, you are the gold standard of education across the globe, please consider sanctioning social media education as a priority for incoming applicants and students in general.