Editorial: COC election jokes went too far

Recently, Class Officer Collective presidential candidate Connor Zhu posted on several CWRU Facebook pages, including a meme group, about his suspicions that the COC elections had been hacked. (Check out our news story covering the allegations and their aftermath). Some students’ reactions to the hacking complaints were swift and overwhelmingly negative.

Soon after the Facebook posts about the allegations, some members of that group began creating hurtful jokes. Some of the memes that were created criticized the decision to post about serious accusations on a humorous page. Others appeared to blatantly mock the entire situation and the people involved.Someone on the page even created a GoFundMe campaign to raise $3,000 toward a “Guaranteed CWRU Election Victory”.

The problem with this content is that it didn’t just gently joke about what happened with the elections. They went further than that by singling out a specific student and creating an “us-vs.them” mentality, where the entire page seemed to be in on a joke that wasn’t originally meant to be humorous.

The intentions behind Zhu’s actions were to encourage fairness in the voting system, and the inclusion of a serious email that Zhu sent to President Barbara Snyder seemed to indicate that the presidential candidate’s Facebook posts were not made in jest.  It’s true, however, that posting about these accusations on a humor-based Facebook page may have been confusing to some.

At best, the memes inspired by this entire situation only served to exacerbate the confusion, leading people to make unfounded assumptions about Zhu’s intentions. At worst, they gave other students an easy, “socially acceptable” way to ridicule one of their peers.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with making memes, and there’s nothing wrong with using them to comment on real events. However, targeting a student online is very problematic. Disrespecting a fellow student under the guise of humor is far from funny. From the perspective of the person on the butt end of the joke, these pictures and words aren’t humorous distractions, but instead a medium for bullying.

What the students behind these derisive posts failed to do was place themselves in Zhu’s position. Their posts showed a lack of empathy for a fellow student. Imagine being bombarded with public, online scorn as a first-year student. No one deserves such an unwelcoming introduction to the CWRU community.

Creating memes about CWRU students carries with it the responsibility to respect those students, to represent them fairly and most importantly to make sure that they don’t mind others poking fun at them. Online content that publicly insults a student whose intentions were sincere fails to meet these responsibilities.

We can all enjoy memes, but let’s enjoy them respectfully.