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A look at meme culture after Harvard rescinds admission offers over offensive memes




Harvard University students walk through the campus on the day Harvard University president, Lawrence H. Summers announced he is resigning at the end of the academic year February 21, 2006 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Harvard University students walk through the campus on the day Harvard University president, Lawrence H. Summers announced he is resigning at the end of the academic year February 21, 2006 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

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Harvard revoked admission offers to at least ten potential students after discovering that they shared racist, sexually graphic and offensive memes in a private Facebook group chat.

The group chat itself was an offshoot of an offshoot. The official Harvard College Class of 2021 Facebook group spawned a large messaging group for general pop culture memes, and a few of those members formed their own, darker group for offensive memes. One of the requirements for getting into this group chat was to post a provocative meme onto the more general meme chat group.

This was leaked to Harvard administrators in mid-April and the school revoked at least ten students’ admissions. Harvard has had to deal with an iteration of this last year, with students who wrote offensive messages online, but didn’t discipline the students involved.

Meme culture is as old as the internet – and the creation and sharing of memes, both general and offensive, often used by the alt-right (remember Pepe?), is a regular staple of the online world, especially in elite colleges. According to Buzzfeed’s Ryan Broderick, this story is a microcosm of the collision of a broader meme culture with the provocative, shock value memes of darker corners of the web.

Against the backdrop of this story, we take a deeper drive into memes. Who creates and shares them? What’s their intent? How do schools deal with less-than-savory memes?

Guests:

Katie Notopoulos, senior editor for BuzzFeed News, where she writes about tech and internet culture; co-host of the Internet Explorer podcast; she’s been following this story; she tweets @katienotopoulos

Ryan Broderick, reporter for BuzzFeed News and co-host of the Internet Explorer podcast; he tweets @broderick