Harvard University is letting prospective students know their ability to be decent human beings – even in online groups with privacy settings – matters. But it goes beyond Harvard hopefuls, beyond high school students. It matters to us, right here in Moncton, no matter your grad year. We all need to grow up and realize the internet is not a separate part of the world – and the hateful and indecent behaviour that happens online spreads because we don’t step up to stop it.
At least 10 high school seniors who were Harvard bound had their acceptance rescinded recently. The students were sharing online jokes about pedophilia, suicide, the Holocaust, and more, while referencing the Ivy League university. The mems were posted in an unofficial Harvard Facebook group; the official group created by the school states that the school maintains the right to revoke admissions if a potential student “engages in behaviour that brings into question his or her honesty, maturity, or moral character.” Fair warning and a valid life lesson, if you ask me.
The moral, though, is that the problem isn’t just the kids. It’s everyone who is online. You, me, your teenage neighbour, the seniors at the centre down the road. We all allowed this happen – and it’s up to all of us to model maturity and moral character in all aspects of our lives, online and in person.
It’s only been a generation since the internet became mainstream. Think of all the stumbles that happen in the first 25 years of life. We’d all like to think we learn from those early years and move on with a better understanding of how the world works, no? So let’s start paying attention. The behaviour these high school graduates exhibited isn’t just a reflection on their youth. It’s a reflection on how we, as a society, have misused the internet. We’ve all been fumbling along, making mistakes, allowing the worst of our society to feed of each other. Now, it’s time to grow up and graduate.
I do think things are changing, slowly, as we’ve seen with the move away from anonymous comments. As with most things, I think it’s a pendulum swing. My generation were at the start of the swing. Our online personas began emerging as our adult ones did, with many of my peers getting their first email address when they started university. The kids starting university in September, they were born into the age of Google. Online was always a part of their life, but everyone was still working out the pitfalls. I see them hanging out at the opposite end of this big swing, making poor choices and paying the price of all of us muddling through a new medium.
The next group of kids coming up, though, the ones in middle school and kindergarten? They’re going to be alright, I think. They’re finding that balance between our two extremes. They are demanding more privacy, becoming more conservative in what they post publically online. (Ask the tweens in your life about their finsta accounts.) They’ve heard the horror stories of online predators, they sit through the cyber bullying workshops, and they know there are now laws on the books that can actually enforce their rights to privacy and decency online.
My guess: we’ll see more and more stories like the Harvard withdrawal of acceptance. We’ll see more apps and services that rely on emojis and seemingly disappearing digital footprints. We’ll see more and more children manoeuvring through the online world with ease and with certainty that this is part of reality, not a virtual world removed from our daily life. And we’ll be better for it.
She Said appears Saturday in the Times & Transcript.