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commUN rooTs: Racist ‘Zoombombings’ of Black organizations can contribute to racial trauma

commUN rooTs: Racist ‘Zoombombings’ of Black organizations can contribute to racial trauma

commUN rooTs: Racist ‘Zoombombings’ of Black organizations can contribute to racial trauma
October 08
19:39 2020

This story is part of the Daily’s partnership with NABJ, known as commUN rooTs. Kaycee Hubbard wrote this piece as a contribution.

Universities across the United States have opted for mostly virtual and remote learning to reduce exposure to COVID-19. Student organizations, a prominent aspect of student life that cannot be ignored, have also had to transition to online events until further notice. Many organizations have come up with creative ways to engage with members of the student body to positive reception. Zoom meetings, although not ideal, have made it easier to interact and continue events. However, there is a dark side to this. 

As the president of UNT’s National Association of Black Journalists, along with the rest of the executive board, are hard at work to continue the organization’s operations despite the pandemic. After troubleshooting a few issues with Zoom events and meetings, things were going smoothly, until Sept. 24th’s “Virtual Reality” meeting. After reading about the horrors of video teleconference hacking, more commonly known as “Zoombombing,” I remained extremely cautious. While some organizations listed meeting IDs and passwords on flyers that floated across social media platforms, we chose a more secure route, encouraging members of the student body to direct message our Twitter and Instagram pages for the Zoom information. 

Understanding the specific vulnerability that Black organizations face on virtual platforms, it was best not to invite any unwelcome behavior. No one new asked for the information, so essentially only old and new members attended. 

The meeting started off well, until during the icebreaker when unknown users infiltrated the call and sprung out the n-word in red capitalized letters across the computer screen. Then came an onset of people spewing racial slurs at the members. After ending the meeting and creating a new one, we all re-entered our chat alarmed and shaken up.

This is not the first time a Black organization or event has dealt with hackers entering Zoom meetings to attack. ‘Zoombombers’ have dropped into video calls and are spreading hate speech, using threatening language and sometimes even using inappropriate images.

One very recent example was at the University of Texas at San Antonio’s Black Student Union Meeting on Sept. 22. The meeting was Zoombombed with loud racist music and the repeated use of the n-word by anonymous users. 

These occurrences have prompted the FBI to make a statement, warning users of hijacking and cybersecurity crimes. They are urging victims to report the attacks to their Internet Crime Complaint center. 

Color of Change, a civil rights advocacy organization, began working with Zoom as early this year when reports flooded in from users concerning these racist attacks. There is no denying that the internet is a breeding-ground for alt-right, white supremacist groups to plot ambushes against oblivious users. 

There needs to be a proactive effort to end such targeted harassment. Yes, we live in a world that has transitioned to virtual where online classes, meetings, jobs and events are held to curb COVID-19 cases. But, a more secure platform could lessen the possibility of such incidents occurring. 

Black student organizations on UNT’s campus have always strived to create safe and secure spaces for our Black students and students of color. Many members of these organizations understand the feelings of inadequacy, isolation and frustration of being the only Black face in a white space where our intelligence, confidence and lives are constantly questioned and debated. 

In previous years as we’ve maintained in-person organizing, it has been a lot easier to find community. It is always a pleasure to see the faces of Black students light up as they walk into a meeting catered towards their experience and needs and to see the discomfort dissipate when they are able to find common ground with fellow Black students. 

But conducting student organizations through a virtual platform has made Black and minority organizations potential targets for racist insults, hate speech and harassment.  If we can’t be safe within our own spaces, then where can we be safe? 

Although experiencing college remotely certainly protects against the coronavirus, it also opens Black, minority and other marginalized students up to many other perils such as this online coordinated effort to terrorize.  For some victims of these attacks, the insults are not just words on a screen, or racist chants and music. These are experiences that are not so easy to “just get over,” and for some, will unfortunately forever become embedded in our memories. But it is an experience that doesn’t necessarily push us away. It invigorates us to continue to use our voices and do so in a way that doesn’t let negative forces win.

Featured Illustration by Austin Banzon

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North Texas Daily

North Texas Daily

The North Texas Daily is the official student newspaper of the University of North Texas, proudly serving UNT and the Denton community since 1916.

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