A Zoom Meeting For Women Of Color Was Hijacked By Trolls Shouting The N-Word
Zoom meetings are being hijacked by people yelling racist slurs and flooding calls with graphic content.
When she founded WOC Space, Tiara Moore envisioned a virtual place where professional women of color could meet, socialize, and offer support in a safe setting.
Then when stay-at-home orders began to be issued across the country, Moore believed the group's weekly meetings were more important than ever. They offered moral support, tips, and relief to the isolation of working from home by being able to connect people via Zoom.
So on Monday, she logged onto the video conferencing app and continued working on her computer, waiting for the handful of members to join her.
"I wasn't even looking at my screen and I hear a girl and she's like, 'I saw this on Twitter," Moore told BuzzFeed News. "I said, 'Oh, hey girl!' and she said, 'Yeah, but you should be careful because you can get hacked.'"
The virtual room instantly filled with what seemed like 100 people, Moore said, with multiple people yelling racist slurs at the same time. It was chaos — but the n-word, being repeatedly yelled in the middle of it, could be heard distinctly.
"I immediately closed it down like, what just happened," she said.
With schools closed and people across the country working from home, the use of teleconferencing has exploded during the coronavirus pandemic. Business executives, government officials, and kindergarten classes have flocked to apps like Zoom, which have become vital to day-to-day work and life during the pandemic.
Unfortunately, racists and trolls have also taken advantage of the app, sneaking their way into unsuspecting meetings and online gatherings, usually bombarding them with pornographic images or racist attacks.
"I felt personally attacked," Moore said. "I was super emotional. I cried and I was like, 'It's 2020, what the fuck!'"
The incident was so frustrating Moore decided to cancel the next Tuesday meeting.
"It's so heartbreaking and, for me to be promoting this virtual safe space and to be attacked, it's so devastating," she said.
The incidents have become so prevalent that the FBI stepped in Monday, offering its own tips to keep online meetings secure and asking people to report incidents to its Internet Crime Complaint Center.
"As large numbers of people turn to video-teleconferencing (VTC) platforms to stay connected in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, reports of VTC hijacking (also called "Zoom-bombing") are emerging nationwide," the agency said. "The FBI has received multiple reports of conferences being disrupted by pornographic and/or hate images and threatening language."
The FBI's Boston office is in particular looking at two incidents, including one where a Massachusetts school's session was interrupted by someone who took off his shirt to display swastika tattoos.
Social media posts show that "Zoombombing" incidents have become widespread in recent days. In particular, college classes and students have become targets, usually with attackers disrupting meetings with racist language.
Jessica Jackson, a second-year student at UCLA, was logging into her astronomy class on Tuesday when it was hijacked within five minutes.
"[The professor] gave them the space to ask their question and then was bombarded by someone repeatedly referring to him as the n-word," Jackson told BuzzFeed News. "Having to leave our universities abruptly because of the pandemic has been taxing enough as it is. It's wild to think that now we have to worry about virtual harassment when we're all just trying to learn and get our degree."
Jackson grabbed her phone and was able to record some of the mayhem that ensued, sharing it on Twitter.
The call was ended a few seconds later, she said, and the professor sent out a second Zoom link to students.
That call was hijacked as well.
Since then, her professor told students in an email the incident has been reported to school officials and is being investigated.
"It was unbelievably frustrating," she said.
Professors at other schools and universities have reported similar incidents.
Ryan Stoldt, a teacher at the University of Iowa, told BuzzFeed News he was hosting online office hours Tuesday for students when someone jumped on the call and started to make sexual noises.
"I launched [the call], had three random people join my room, heard sexual moans start and closed the room before anyone that actually wanted help jumped on," he said.
At the University of Texas at Austin, an online meeting hosted by the Heman Sweatt Center for Black Males, an organization supporting black students at the university, was hijacked by people who started to shout racist slurs.
The call was set up to help give students tools to stay focused during the coronavirus pandemic, but the director of the center told KXAN they had to end the call within 20 minutes because of the racist outbursts.
University president Greg Fenves said the school was investigating the incident.
Some of the disruptions to classes are suspected of being from fellow students, but experts suspect Zoombombing has also been adopted as a tactic by white supremacist and racist groups, many of which have historically targeted colleges and universities.
"There is concern that extremists could exploit the increasing reliance on video conference technology to target certain groups or advance their hateful messages," the Anti-Defamation League said in a statement, where it also offered tips to avoid the trolling. "Across various social media platforms, extremists have already seized on the coronavirus pandemic as a vehicle to spread their hate and conspiracies."
Among its tips, the organization, which tracks anti-Semitic hate and other racist incidents, recommends disabling autosaving chats, assigning two cohosts, muting all participants, and locking the meeting once all attendees are present.
Last week, Zoom released a video offering tips on how to prevent Zoombombing, including using its waiting room feature — which requires the host to approve people coming into the call — and limiting who can share content on the calls.
Zoom also recommends that people not share the link to their meetings on social media, where trolls could search for and target them. It also recently updated its default settings for teachers to keep them in control of what content is being shared in a virtual classroom, the company said in a statement to BuzzFeed News.
"We are deeply upset to hear about the incidents involving this type of attack. We take the security of Zoom meetings seriously and in order to prevent such incidents from occurring, we strongly encourage users to arrange their settings so that only hosts can share their screens, and utilize features such as 'Waiting Room' and host muting controls," the company said.
The company added it was committed to maintaining a respectful and inclusive environment and encouraged anyone with issues to report them to its support team.
Going forward, Moore said she plans to be more careful with her meetings and plans to use a password from now on. She also won't be sharing the link widely on Twitter anymore. It's disappointing, she said, because she used to be happy to have newcomers unexpectedly join the calls.
She realizes now she can't do that anymore.
She's also filed a report with Zoom.
"It's a whole pandemic," she said, "and y'all have to do better."
The name of the Heman Sweatt Center for Black Males was misstated in an earlier version of this post.