It’s often said that “the internet never forgets.” Countless individuals, including many high-profile celebrities, have had old (cringeworthy) comments resurface at inopportune times, often to the detriment of their careers.
Eighteen-year-old Kyle Kashuv, a conservative gun rights activist and survivor of the tragic Parkland school shooting in 2018, is the latest person to suffer from this unintentional form of self-sabotage. On June 17, the high schooler announced on Twitter that Harvard University rescinded his admission to the Class of 2023 because of racially insensitive texts and comments he made nearly two years ago, prior to the shooting.
When your (digital) past comes back to haunt you
In Kashuv’s 13-tweet thread, he explains that, as a 16-year-old, he and some former classmates made “idiotic comments, using callous and inflammatory language in and effort to be as extreme and shocking as possible.” Screenshots of these comments, which contained derogatory and racist remarks, circulated around the internet and eventually made their way to the Harvard admissions board.
Kashuv shared a copy of the letter he received from Harvard demanding a written explanation of his actions for the Committee’s consideration. He then shared his apology/explanation letter and an email sent to Harvard’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, in which he reiterated his regret for the comments and the fact that he is “not the same person” he was when he wrote them.
Despite Kashuv’s apology, Harvard decided to withdraw his admission on the grounds of “behavior that brings into question [Kashuv’s] honesty, maturity or moral character.” The student’s request to make his case in person was declined, which prompted Kashuv to call out Harvard’s “checkered past” of hiring publicly bigoted faculty in the past.
“If Harvard is suggesting that growth isn’t possible and that our past defines our future, then Harvard is an inherently racist institution. But I don’t believe that,” Kashuv tweeted. “I believe that institutions and people can grow. In the end, this [is] … about whether we live in a society in which forgiveness is possible or mistakes brand you as irredeemable, as Harvard has decided for me.” Search a full background report on a person
Could better reputation management have saved Kashuv’s spot at Harvard?
Kashuv is not the only student who lost their opportunity to attend their dream school over ill-advised social media content from their youth. The New York Times reported that in 2017, Harvard had revoked admissions offers for at least 10 students due to “sexually explicit and other offensive memes and messages” shared in a private Facebook group.
Similar circumstances have plagued celebrities, who are already under constant public scrutiny. In 2018, Kevin Hart, Roseanne Barr, James Gunn and other notable figures suffered highly publicized career consequences after offensive tweets were unearthed.
The lesson? Anyone who’s ever shared questionable, ignorant or distasteful content on the internet (no matter how young, medicated or under the influence as they may have been at the time) might want to consider spending some time cleaning up their digital past.
How to start managing your online reputation
The practice of reputation management has become more common and practically a necessity in the age of screenshots and social media. This practice often encompasses a variety of activities designed to influence and shape the public’s perception of a person or organization.
While reputation management is often associated with brands and public figures, the average individual can benefit from periodically assessing their own online presence. For instance, searching for yourself online can help you identify forgotten social media profiles containing public content you’d rather your family, friends, colleagues, employers and other important audiences didn’t see.
If you do find anything that may negatively impact the way people view you, you can then take steps to remove it. While you can’t always prevent a reputation management crisis, proactively reviewing and cleaning up your social media presence is a good step toward avoiding a situation like Kyle Kashuv’s.