There’s something so final about posting on social media. Sure, you can edit, delete and customize a post to your liking, but when it comes to the actual act of posting, there’s no going back. Dramatic? Yes—but true. Posting and deleting is a popular and continuous cycle, but that doesn’t prevent audiences from taking screenshots, reporting, or sharing content before the author even has a chance to remove it from channels. And even after it’s deleted, there’s no real way to know if it’s actually gone, or worse, ended up in the wrong hands.
For ten incoming Harvard University freshmen, that’s exactly what happened. Just this week, the prestigious school revoked their acceptance offers when graphic and tasteless memes surfaced from the Facebook messaging group, “Harvard memes for horny bourgeois teens.”
“In the group, members joked about subjects including sexual assault, the Holocaust, deaths of children, and certain ethnic or racial groups, according to the Crimson.”
Because of a Facebook message group, these students lost a once-in-a-lifetime college experience, along with potential career and future opportunities. It makes you wonder, was it worth it? And I don’t just mean in the context of this situation, but is it ever worth the risk for others to perceive you in a negative light, publicly or not? The truth is, the photos we upload, the words we choose, and the context of a post are all pieces of a puzzle that audiences put together to understand who we are. Our image, reputation and hope for success are all online, and constantly on the line in a media-driven world. Even for young, immature college freshmen that have barely made their mark.
Now, just imagine a big brand in this kind of situation. The impact would be just as swift—and unforgiving. Back in 2014, DiGiorno Pizza took a lot of heat for misusing the trending hashtag at the time, #WhyIStayed, which was initially to support domestic violence victims after Baltimore Ravens running back, Ray Rice, was exposed for abusing his former fiancée, Janay Palmer. For thousands of women on Twitter, it was an empowering experience sharing personal stories of overcoming abuse, a way to come together in spirit and support.
Unfortunately for the pizza company, they (supposedly) weren’t aware of the hashtag’s particular context. And then they joined the conversation with this:
It didn’t take long for DiGiorno to realize their huge misunderstanding, thanks to several retweets and comments condemning the post. And within minutes, the tweet was deleted—followed by an apology.
I’m bringing up this particular social mishap because it happened over three years ago, and it’s still all over Twitter, the Internet. Deleting the tweet didn’t really make it go away—it’s stench lingered in the realm of social media, quickly becoming a “what not to do” example for other businesses. And, don’t get me wrong, it’s good advice—ALWAYS be aware of the context of trending hashtags, take social seriously as not just an advertising tool, but platform for your brand, because that’s what social media is: a reflection of your business, your beliefs, of yourself. And a single post can shatter it all.
It goes to show that users—young adults and companies alike—still have trouble seeing social media as a serious platform. Silly memes, GIFs and posts seem to have diluted the image of social networks like Facebook and Twitter to that of a space for impulsive, disposable content to cycle in and out of. But, that’s not the case. While social channels themselves may not be tangible, the consequences on these platforms are very, very real. The sooner we all realize that, the better—otherwise, your posts may come back to haunt you.