Issaquah High School has a long history of students posting insensitive and offensive statements on social media. In 2017, a student with the Twitter handle “issyrefs” referred to Newport High School as “Beijing Bellevue.” In 2019, Issaquah student Maddie Knopf made a school dance poster saying “if I was black I’d be picking cotton, but instead I pick you. Tolo?” which was posted on Snapchat and then went viral. Most recently, on January 1, 2021, Issaquah student Jonah Frederick posted on Instagram many photos of him socializing with large groups of people without masks, along with the caption “2020 only sucked if you’re afraid of COVID.”
When high school students post such content, they often do so without the full awareness of the potential impact, or consequences, that these public proclamations can have. But when adults screw up on social media, they do face serious consequences. From celebrities to everyday people, there are many examples of those who have been fired from a job, or “cancelled,” for posting offensive content.
Adults are being held accountable and facing consequences for their social media posts. High school students also need to face repercussions for what they put on the internet to better prepare them for the real world.
Students across the country are already facing consequences, whether they are ready for it or not. Colleges have expelled students for their social media posts, or rescinded admissions offers after discovering offensive content from incoming students. In 2016, Harvard discovered a private Facebook group of accepted high school seniors where they had posted several offensive memes. All of these students had their admissions rescinded.
Harvard’s action was not a surprise. The majority of universities today have a holistic admissions process for the exact purpose of getting to know a student’s character. They look into an applicant’s extracurriculars and require several personal essays. This is very necessary because universities house students on campus, where they become a part of a larger, more diverse community and constantly interact with each other. Students play a much larger role in each other’s lives than they did in high school.
Before high school students end up facing serious, life-changing consequences, it is important for high school administrators to nip the problem much earlier. Students need to realize what they post on the internet greatly impacts the people around them, even if they are unable to see the impacts since their comments are not made face-to face.
Take Jonah Frederick’s anti-mask post for example. It was severely hurtful to those who may have had loved ones die from COVID-19. In addition, his bragging about not wearing masks nor social distancing incites and encourages other students to break state law, since indoor gatherings of more than 10 people were banned at the time. There were also several inflammatory comments calling students who choose to stay at home and social distance as “having no friends” and “social rejects.”
Such a post could peer pressure students to take unnecessary risks with their health. To counter this, high school administrators need to better explain the negative effects of social media to students and instill consequences such as suspension or detention for their social media posts, just like they would do if the student had made such comments in-person at school.
Ultimately, school leaders have the option to inform colleges if the offensive post comes from a high school senior who applied to those colleges. Admissions offices need to have a full view of the students they are considering, because such students can have a negative influence on campus life.
A university may soon be dealing with an outbreak if someone who blatantly defies COVID-19 public health guidelines was allowed to be on campus. With nearly all universities trying to prevent COVID-19 cases, it is completely justified for them to reject students who actively defy public health protocols meant to keep others safe.
Some may argue that reporting social media posts goes against freedom of speech. However, students still get consequences for making hurtful or dangerous statements within the school building, so why should it be any different on the internet?
Social media posts are often a direct reflection of an individual’s character. Students must learn that posting insensitive and offensive content has consequences in the real world. With social media platforms becoming increasingly popular among youth, we must instill a basic civic responsibility before these kids grow up and consequences become more severe. Hopefully, our schools can play a more active role in shaping a future generation that has greater empathy towards each other, and a better sense to not embarrass themselves on the internet.
Stuti Bhardwaj grew up in Sammamish and is currently a freshman at the University of Wisconsin‒Madison. She graduated from Issaquah High School in 2020.