Civil Rights Group Demands An End To 'Zoombombing' Civil rights groups warn that white nationalists and others are using the video-meeting platform Zoom to target people based on their race, sexuality and religion.
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Racial Slurs And Swastikas Fuel Civil Rights Pressure On Zoom

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Racial Slurs And Swastikas Fuel Civil Rights Pressure On Zoom

Racial Slurs And Swastikas Fuel Civil Rights Pressure On Zoom

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NOEL KING, HOST:

In Zoom meetings, racist slurs and hate speech keep showing up. Today, a civil rights group is meeting with the company to demand it do something about that. NPR tech correspondent Shannon Bond has the reporting. But first let me know zoom is an NPR sponsor.

SHANNON BOND, BYLINE: Rashad Robinson first encountered the term Zoombombing on social media.

RASHAD ROBINSON: We started seeing people posting things and tagging, particularly me and others at Color of Change, in what they were experiencing.

BOND: Color of Change is a nonprofit that advocates for racial equality, and Robinson is its president. People were tagging him and reports of Zoom attacks because so many of them involved racist slurs and harassment.

ROBINSON: Black women are having a church gathering and have people come in drawing, you know, genitalia and calling them the N-word.

BOND: Robinson's group and others found evidence of organized campaigns out in the open on Twitter and Instagram, as well as on message boards popular with the far right. There, people shared links and passwords to coordinate attacks on unsuspecting Zoom users. This all comes as Zoom is being increasingly used for online school, Passover Seders, town halls. Now Color of Change says Zoom must take more responsibility.

ROBINSON: You know, we want them to release a specific plan to combat racial harassment on the platform.

BOND: Among Robinson's list of demands, a chief diversity officer who would focus on how the technology impacts vulnerable people - also, better security. And he wants a formal apology to victims. In a statement to NPR, Zoom says it takes security extremely seriously, and it looks forward to the discussion with Color of Change. But other groups are ringing too. The Anti-Defamation League has traced two attacks to a known white nationalist. Both involved virtual events held by Jewish groups.

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OREN SEGAL: As more and more people are spending time at home, so are the extremists, who are looking to find ways to leverage the technology to harass people.

BOND: Oren Segal runs the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism. He spoke during a presentation the group gave on Zoombombing.

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SEGAL: These are moments where people are trying to find community, trying to find opportunities to create normal discussion with colleagues, with friends and with family. And that's why this is particularly disturbing.

BOND: Law enforcement is watching. Michigan prosecutors warn hacking video conferences is a crime. And there could be jail time. In recent weeks, Zoom has taken steps to make it harder for intruders to get into meetings. The company blocks IP addresses of attackers when people report harassment. But critics say it should be more proactive, given that these are problems that plague so many tech platforms. Zoom CEO Eric Yuan appeared on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, where he was asked whether he should have anticipated such attacks by harassers.

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ERIC YUAN: I never thought about this seriously.

BOND: That answer reflects how Yuan envisioned Zoom in the first place. It was designed for business meetings. But now it's having to grapple with what happens when society at large logs on. Even more troubling, this new form of virtual harassment doesn't end with the Zoom meetings themselves. Joan Donovan studies online extremism at the Harvard Kennedy School's Shorenstein Center.

JOAN DONOVAN: A lot of these folks are taking a video or taking screenshots and then sharing them in other places. So we're seeing the artifacts of Zoombombing bombing show up on YouTube and on TikTok and on other video sharing platforms.

BOND: And when that happens, it's hard for Zoom or any single company to end the vicious cycle. Shannon Bond, NPR News, San Francisco.

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