Saturday, March 28, 2020
The week I got Zoombombed
Before the COVID-19 emergency, I travelled to work to sit at my desk and have lots of video meetings, mostly using Zoom. Now I stay at home and do the same thing. I haven't noticed a massive change in my working routines basically. However, since most education in the world is now being conducted online the use of e-meeting tools like Zoom has gone off the scale and all platforms are busy expanding their capacity to meet the unprecedented demand.
But when a service gets popular it attracts the trolls and cranks that get a thrill out of disrupting and sabotaging. They now seem to have found their way into Zoom meetings and this week I got my first taste. I have been very fortunate to have escaped the trolls over all the years that I have been active in social media and online communication. I have also been quite open at inviting people to webinars and other synchronous events. Anyway on Thursday we were running a 2 day internal conference where teachers could exchange ideas with each other on teaching online. The conference ran over two days and teachers could come and go as their schedules allowed. On Thursday morning we had an external speaker and I thought we could maybe attract some external participants by tweeting about it. This is not unusual and I'd never heard of anyone having problems with advertising a live session this way.
Seconds after my tweet, the trolls turned up and started screaming loudly and sharing their screen shots of assorted excrement. I scrambled to cancel the participant screen-sharing and ejected the offenders from the room as soon as I could. I also deleted my tweet. After a few minutes of chaos things calmed down and we could start the session though I was on red alert checking all new participants and immediately ejecting people with generic names like John or Dave. The rest of the conference went well and no more trolls turned up. Unfortunately I mistakenly ejected a real participant who was then unable to join the rest of the conference (once ejected you cannot return). I could have changed the setting to readmit ejected participants but didn't dare unless the trolls came back.
I felt less ashamed when I realised that I was not the only one to suffer from this. There's even a name for it, Zoombombing, and is described in an article in the Guardian, Trolls exploit Zoom privacy settings as app gains popularity. In Zoom we want to create creative meetings where participants have a voice, can share screens and collaborate so we have all these options open. We also want to make it easy to come to a meeting without the barriers of passwords and up till now this open attitude has been possible. But after this experience I will need to be more careful organising events and build in safeguards against unauthorised entry. Zoom have reacted quickly and have now published a page of tips on how to limit the threat from trolls, How to Keep the Party Crashers from Crashing Your Zoom Event. useful measures for future public events are password protection, use a waiting room for monitoring new arrivals, stop screen-sharing for participants (unless the host gives them permission), mute all participants on entry, put everyone on hold until you eject the intruders, temporarily disable participants' video and more. For webinars I only send the link to the room to those who have registered for the event (usually one day before) and that has so far been enough to keep the meeting in order.
I will certainly be more careful in future and I would urge you to do the same. That doesn't mean locking down a wonderful forum for collaboration, just be careful as host and know where the emergency buttons are. But think before you post that link publicly.