Following former President Trump’s removal from office, the racist ideas and language spewed by many of his most vocal supporters has gone online. It’s showing up in chat rooms and dark web forums and — in a troubling trend that appears to be growing — it’s also popping up in racist hate-bombing and disruption of public forums and meetings, especially events taking place over Zoom.
In a meeting of the Longmeadow Coalition for Racial Justice Task Force on Feb. 6, MassLive reported that racist Zoom-bombers took over the event, shouting racial slurs and defacing the meeting screen with a swastika and other expletives. The disorder lasted for several minutes until officials with the task force (which is working to identify and eliminate areas of systemic racism in the region) were able to regain control of the event.
On the same day, Karl Reid, executive director of the National Society of Black Engineers, was delivering a presentation on the importance of diversity and inclusion in the field of engineering as part of the Tufts University School of Engineering’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Colloquium Series. The Tufts Daily reported that “during his presentation, someone gained control of the screen and scrawled a racist term across his slides.” Reid turned off his screen share and continued with his presentation and the event is now under investigation.
Just days earlier, the Centre Daily Times reported that a similar event took place at Penn State. During the university’s virtual Spring Involvement Fair, members of Penn State’s Black Caucus experienced an overt racist attack when “51 users invaded the group’s online space to hurl racial slurs” at the speakers. At least one user is said to have also allegedly exposed himself. According to reporter Josh Moyer, “the entire incident lasted between 10-15 minutes before all the users could be reported and removed.”
Even memorial services and tributes to beloved city employees have been recently attacked. Boston’s WBUR radio reported that on Jan. 13, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego was in the middle of a tribute to Calvin C. Goode, a former vice mayor of the city known for fighting for low-income Black residents during his 22 years on the city council, who had recently passed away at the age of 93.
“In the middle of my remarks, we received what you often now call a Zoom-bomb,” Gallego told reporters Peter O’Dowd and Allison Hagan. “Individuals making terrible racist remarks and really offensive comments interrupted the service.”
Last fall ahead of the 2020 general election, we reported on another one of these attacks, this time waged during a town hall hosted by Jahana Hayes, Connecticut’s first Black congresswoman. The violent and high-profile assault left Hayes shaken and caused her to post “I am not OK” to her followers on social media. In the aftermath of the events, Hayes said “We are left debating Zoom security, yet not addressing the underlying issue — that pockets of racism and hate still exist right in our own front yard … The only way we can cut the cancer of racism out of our communities is by calling it out when we see it and raising our collective voices to get rid of it.”
Rashad Robinson, the executive director of Color of Change (the United States’ largest online racial justice organization that has lobbied for social media companies to address civil rights violations on their platforms), says that even now — almost a year after Zoom-bombing became a thing as the country moved to virtual work and virtual events as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic — the Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities still face “immediate danger” when working on the video call platform Zoom.
“In the United States, particularly, there is a history of Black people having their community events disrupted,” Robinson explained to Al-Jazeera’s Shayma Bakht in June 2020, when these hate attacks started to trend. “In recent memory, white nationalists have shot up Black churches. Now, our Zoom gatherings are being targeted. Technology is supposed to bring us to the future, but instead, it’s dragging us to the past.”
Following instances of online class interruption back in March of 2020, The Mercury News reported that the FBI was now encouraging anyone who experienced a Zoom assault to report the event for investigation. The agency also issued new guidelines for Zoom meeting safety, telling anyone who might be administering a meeting that has the potential for interruption some basic rules to follow:
- “Don’t make meetings or classrooms public. In Zoom, there are two options to make a meeting private: require a meeting password or use the waiting room feature and control the admittance of guests.”
- “Do not share Zoom conference links on public social media. Provide the link directly to specific people.”
- “Manage screen-sharing options. In Zoom, change screen sharing to ‘Host Only.’”
- “Ensure that your organization’s telework policy or guide addresses requirements for physical and information security.”
C-Net has also written extensively on how to avoid Zoom-bombing. Among the tips that reporter Rae Hodge recommended:
- “Don’t use your Personal Meeting ID for the meeting. Instead, use a per-meeting ID, exclusive to a single meeting.”
- “Enable the ‘waiting room’ feature so that you can see who is attempting to join the meeting before allowing them access.”
- Disable other potential hackable options, including the ability for others to join before the host; screen-sharing for non-hosts; the remote control function; and all file transferring, annotations and autosave features for chats.
- If possible, once the meeting begins and everyone is in, lock the meeting to outsiders and assign at least two meeting co-hosts for added protection and security.