Zoombombing is a mirror that forces us to look at ourselves.

ZoomBombing

If you are an educator and you use Zoom either because you already taught online or because you were made to move your classroom to it in zoom speeds, you know about “Zoombombing”. Zoombombing is a mirror that forces us to look at ourselves in the historical, social and political contexts that we live in. Humans are social, historical, political beings and since teaching is a human activity, so is Zoombombing. The expectation that all the isms — racism, misogyny, classism, xenophonia, transphobia, homophobia, ableism, anti BIPOC- would not show up in US American Zoom Classrooms (invited or uninvited) is a mirror in an of itself of our unwillingness to face the music and dance; to acknowledge that what author and philosopher bell hooks speaks of as “imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy” is baked into the cake of US American culture. Zoombombings, are violent, traumatic, and triggering. They are by en large hate crimes against BIPOC, women, LGBT+ folks and Asian folks (Thanks to 45!)

Are you a teacher that has experienced them personally? I have. Three times this past week. Two times in a colleague’s class (which I entered as a Restorative Justice Coordinator) and wait for it, yesterday during the “celebration of life” memorial for a teacher at our school that died two days ago, most likely of COVOD-19. Yes, you read it correctly. Some White boys came into a place of mourning, and talked about how they hated N words, and their D***s are huge and had porn movies playing on screens behind them. In my experience, and as Dr. Fauci reminds us, research and data cannot come from data only gathered by us on a one time basis, it has only been White teenage boys doing this. In the case of the “classroom” zoombombing, the boys were not part of our school community, BUT! they were social media friends with boys in the class. We are now looking for correlations between the zoombombers from yesterday’s memorial and my hope is that they were not connected to our community.

Does this surprise you?

Why do I mention race? Because everything about this country is about race. Whoever tells you differently is either lying, doesn’t have an understanding of racism 101, and/or is a racist of some level. ← All White people — including myself!- have been socialized under racist thoughts and idea. Ibram X. Kendi does a great job explaining this.

If Zoombombings were about folks interrupting our classes to show videos of cute puppies and kitties, or about discussing the Tiger King show, or even about just telling jokes, or playing games, I think we’d all laugh it off, and maybe even welcome the respite from trying to teach content in a dog forsaken dull platform such as zoom. Zoombombings are not about teens doing naughty things like when a kid comes in our rooms and snatches the bathroom pass. Zoombombings are raciallized disurptions aimed at disregulating a community and leaving its mark in it. You can think of Zoombombings as bombing bombings, which the USA does plenty, especially in places that are Black and Brown. Check for yourself.

It is so easy to blame this on Zoom’s lack of security, which needs to be named. Zoom is trash. Zoom is basura. Zoom is the kind of Capitalistic business that not only benefited but exploited disaster capitalism. Zoom “saw” an opportunity to position itself as the tech savior and offer everyone a free account without the 40 minute time constraint, but also without any of the security protocols needed to even attempt to have a secure meeting. That is what capitalism, and especially neoliberalism does; give the people peanuts and tell them they’re being given everything. They “zoomed” into the opportunity to “help” [themselves]. We also have to acknowledge Zoom was not built for what we are using it and not naming that is also a mirror into ourselves. We are socialized to not think critically about the tech we consume, especially if it is free. Zoom was built for *some people to use the tech in mainly higher ed institutions, corporate offices, non profits, businesses, etc. IT WAS NOT DESIGNED NOR MEANT FOR A WHOLE SYSTEM OF EDUCATION TO USE IT WITH 3 DAYS NOTICE.

The platform was never designed so teens, pre teens and much less kids to use, especially at home, and without live support by people who know what it is that they’re doing. The platform is not user friendly. Even before Zoom made their “security protocols” (quotation marks and air quotes on purpose because they are bogus) standard, accessing them took at least 3 extra steps and the fonts were small small small; very easy to miss and very hard to actually set up. Password protecting a meeting is a dope thing, BUT it is not the end all be all to safety. It is the first place to start. It also provides a huge accessibility issue and does not take into account youth culture.

Youth, especially high school students communicate either mostly or soelely through apps on social media to each other (snapchat, discord, IG, twitch, TikTok, etc) Developers and adults who don’t spend time with youth, or care to care, wouldn’t know this. There is nothing private about this communications and when kids communicate with each other, they share passwords, links et all in pictures on social media. You can password protect the ish out of a class/meeting, and if you have teens in the class, the link will leak. The password is almost as good as no password. In this case, all we can hope is that someone who wants to ZB, comes, does it once and then gets banned. Passwords are also buggy AF. Sometimes they work, others they don’t. I could share you the hundreds of emails or texts that I have from students screenshotting “password is invalid”, “host is in another meting”:, “meeting not found”, etc. The setting of “waiting room” is dope. Good luck managing a WR of 50,100+ people on your own tho…

The second step of security (not secure enough either, because this can be easily hacked) is to make students “register” for the class with their school email, and then you have to approve them. If you have a class, this is the best recommendation. IF you are hosting a one time thing, on a whim, like the memorial service I hosted yesterday, this becomes an issue of accessibility. This step takes time for both attendees and hosts and the more steps, the less likely youth will do it. We wanted to make the event accessible to kids who our comrade had taught in previous years, who did not have an email account linked to our school and we also knew that we could not manage 500+ attendees. Zoom was not set up for teaching high school. As nice as it is to be able to video conference with kids (and this has been my lifeline, as someone who is self quarantining in a tiny studio apartment and who has had no human interaction 1:1 in 3 weeks), Zoom has not, is not and will not be a place to teach as a system. I’d love to use Zoom as part of an accessibility support for students who cannot make it to the schoolhouse on a regular bases because of and tho I am grateful for this lifeline during this global pandemic, we need to name that Zoom is not school. No place is safe really, but Zoom is definitely less than not safe; it is susceptible to the threats of “imperialism, white supremacy, capitalism and patriarchy”. Zoom does not allow us to wrap ourselves in the warm and fuzzy but fake blanket of “this is a safe space”. If someone wants to do violent things, and they know the hacking tech skills to do it, they can. I had every security protocol turned in (no ability to unmute yourself, no sharing virtual backgrounds, etc) dialed in, and yet people still could do those things. I also paid for a more robust account for the memorial service.

You know what worked to not get ZB’d for a second time in the memorial service for a teacher that just died? A combination of my co-hosts and I not letting anyone whose name we didn’t know into the meeting, plus EVERY teen (75 or so) commenting on the chat box and yelling into the mic to drown out the Zoombombers, and teachers and kids texting my co-hosts and I to kick out accounts that were sus. Have you ever seen love in action? Have you actually seen love smash hate? That is what worked. What worked yestrday to smash zoombombers and provide a 90 minute zoombombed free meeting is what always works; collective organizing. Youth, teachers, co-hosts, came together to solve a problem within 45 seconds ( time it took us to be back in a meeting with 120+ people) to continue the meeting, and then staying vigilant to protect one another.

Zoom’s security breach issues is a problem but it is not THE problem. The problem is that WE (the collective we) are unwilling to accept that racism and misogyny and oppression are baked into our culture and we are unwilling to do the work of undoing racism each and everyday, though every action — specifically teaching the youth. Angela Davis writes: “You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.”

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Martin Urbach

Latinx Immigrant, percussionist, radical educator, & activist. Likes cookies & cookie monsters.