October 22, 2020

“Zoom-bombers” disrupt online classes

Image courtesy of Zoom.

The quick transition to online classes has posed a lot of new challenges for students and professors at colleges and universities around the country. For many, lectures that have been moved to Zoom have experienced uninvited guests.

Zoom is a free tool and is relatively easy to learn. Users can join any call in a matter of seconds and can even dial-in with a phone number. This ease of access has led to another crisis for many students and professors: the so-called “Zoom-bombers.”

In March, reports of random users joining Zoom calls started surfacing. These users would join calls and disrupt the virtual classroom by yelling expletives over the microphone, spamming chat with racial slurs, and displaying pornographic content via the “share screen” feature.

Zoom-bombing had not been an issue at the university for most of March. That quickly changed within a week as multiple instances occurred, one at a major university event.

The first one occurred during an intro to music class Tuesday, March 31. The class, which typically hosts 13 people in a Zoom lecture, picked up a 14th person midway through the call.

Wendy Phillips, junior public relations major, music minor, called out the Zoom-bomber who disrupted her class. (Photo courtesy of Wendy Phillips)

“He just started talking nonstop,” Wendy Phillips, a junior public relations major, said. Philips said he constantly disrupted the professor and even started drinking alcohol on video, further distracting the class.

“I messaged him privately and called him out…. He started calling me out in the chat,” Phillips said.

Phillips said the stranger mentioned that he didn’t go to school at the university and would not share how he got access to the lecture.

The second Zoom-bombing incident of the week happened later that day. Student Government was set to host a Q&A with Provost Jody Fournier on the topic of the university’s response to COVID-19. The call, which started at 7 p.m., had featured around 20 students.

“I started the conversation just a couple of minutes after 7 p.m. to outline how the call would work,” Deanna Wagner, dean of engagement and success, said. “As soon as I began, the disruption began. It seemed to be multiple people, not just one.”

“Someone joined the Zoom call before Provost Fournier had officially started the Q&A and it was clear that this person was not meant to be there,” Lexi Armstrong, junior pyschology major, said. Armstrong said the person in question was playing a pornographic video in the background of his screen and had a track playing with very explicit language.

Lexi Armstrong witnessed the Zoom-bomber disruption during Provost Jody Fournier’s Q&A update. (Photo courtesy of Lexi Armstrong)

“I was shocked that it was happening.”

The university has offered an update on how these issues are going to be addressed.

“Going forward, the university is sharing links to resources to continue to be proactive in protecting against incidents like this,” Wagner said. Classes should be free from disruption because links are only being sent to students enrolled in the class.

For “open” university events, students will have to RSVP via the Corq app and use Engage to access links to Zoom calls. This prevents unwanted visitors as students need to log in with their Capital credentials to access both Corq and Engage.

What if the links to the calls get shared with outside visitors by a Capital University student, though? Are there ways for professors to control their virtual classrooms once they go live?

Zoom has recently provided updated resources available to educators to control their virtual classrooms. The company released multiple blog posts over March to educate users on security features available within the app. One was aimed specifically at combating Zoom-bombers while another was aimed at virtual classroom best practices.

“We are deeply upset to hear about the incidents involving this type of attack,” a Zoom spokesperson said over email. “We strongly condemn such behavior and we encourage users to report any incidents of this kind directly to [our support page] so we can take appropriate action.”

The videoconferencing service also has decided to enable passwords by default on meetings and turn the virtual waiting rooms feature on by default starting April 5 to combat unwanted Zoom call guests.

Have you experienced disruptions in your Zoom classes? If so, please reach out to us. Fill out our COVID-19/virtual learning tip line here or email us at chimes@capital.edu.

  • Zach Ferenchak is a current Senior studying Emerging Media with an emphasis in PR. Along with serving as managing editor for The Chimes, Zach is heavily involved with the Public Relations Student Society of America, where he serves as the organization's incoming National Vice President of Brand Engagement. He is an avid communicator who hopes to one day elevate brands and causes through effective storytelling.

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