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No place at Harvard for group sharing mean-spirited memes

On a more uplifting note, a local poet's 13-word image attracts thousands of likes

WHEN MEMES KILL DREAMS

They joked about the Holocaust and the deaths of children and mocked certain ethnicities in a private group chat. And when their crass humour came to light, at least 10 students lost their places in Harvard College.

According to the student paper Harvard Crimson, a small number of prospective members of the Class of 2021 first met one another on an official class Facebook group after they received their admission offers.

A handful of students thought it would be a good idea to set up a private messaging group - titled "Harvard memes for horny bourgeois teens" - and trade offensive jokes and images.

In the chat, they joked about finding child abuse sexually arousing and calling the hypothetical hanging of a Mexican child "pinata time".

But the joke was on them, as one member ratted on the whole group to university administrators, who sent an e-mail to the offenders.

The e-mail asked the students to "submit a statement explaining their contributions and actions for discussion" with the admissions committee.

A week later, at least 10 students were told that their admission offers had been withdrawn.


Talk show host James Corden (right) and Ed Sheeran in their viral hit featuring a karaoke/interview session with the singer. The YouTube video, which was posted last Tuesday, has attracted more than 14.5 million views. PHOTO: YOUTUBE

It is easy to forget that thoughtless online behaviour can lead to real-life consequences.

Delving deeper into the subject, author Ana Homayoun said the reason for such reckless online behaviour is that many teens view likes, comments and followers as a barometer for popularity.

A recent study revealed that the areas of teens' brains which focus on reward processing and social cognition were activated when they thought about money, sex and a photo receiving a lot of likes on social media.

"Teens can quickly get caught up in the feedback loop, posting and sharing images and videos that they believe will gain the largest reaction," she said. "Over time, their behaviour online can become based on their 'all about likes' values rather than their real-life values."

SOCIAL MEDIA POETS

Very often, especially on social media, less can be more.

An image which contained only 13 words has resulted in more than 6,000 likes, comments and shares.

"You only spoke a single line, yet it felt like a life sentence," wrote local hobbyist poet Timothy Joshua Chia on Facebook last Tuesday.

He also posted the image to Instagram and Tumblr, where it was well received too.

Speaking to The Sunday Times, the 27-year-old said he was pleasantly surprised by the attention his post has garnered.

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"The premise is that sometimes a single sentence can change your life," said the English teacher, who has been pushing his words via social media for the past three years.

He had previously written short quips and poems just for friends. They eventually persuaded him to share his work online.

Chia, who is releasing his book Questions To Our Answers next month, hopes his work would be able to bring solace to the downtrodden.

"I recall being laughed at or mocked when I first started out, but I kept at it because I wanted to reach out to readers and help them," he said. He urged budding poets eager to conquer the social media space to have a clear idea of whom they are writing for.

He started with Instagram, before moving on to posting on Facebook and Tumblr.

"It's important to remember that different social media platforms have different audiences who hail from different places," he said.

TIGHTER CONTROLS IN CHINA

Looking for your celebrity gossip fix? You probably will not be able to find it in China.

The Beijing authorities have ordered Internet companies to close down 60 popular celebrity gossip social media accounts.

The Beijing Cyberspace Administration said websites must "adopt effective measures to keep in check the problems of the embellishment of private sex scandals of celebrities, the hyping of ostentatious celebrity spending and catering to the poor taste of the public".

Instead, Internet companies like Tencent and Baidu must actively "propagate core socialist values".

This is the latest salvo in a series of crackdowns on independent media.

Last month, the government introduced a new set of rules for online platforms that severely restricts what they can publish.

For instance, every editorial staff member on such platforms must first attain approval by the national or local government Internet office.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 11, 2017, with the headline 'No place at Harvard for group sharing mean-spirited memes'. Print Edition | Subscribe