Advertisement

UCLA investigates ‘Zoom-bombing’ attacks during online classes

A jogger in front of a brick building at UCLA
A lone jogger runs past Royce Hall on a nearly empty UCLA campus in Los Angeles on Aug. 13.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

UCLA officials are investigating several “Zoom-bombing” incidents in which people disrupted online classes with racist and hateful language during the first week of the fall term, officials said.

“‘Zoom bombing’ attacks like these are antithetical to our campus values and an affront to the dignity of those at UCLA,” the school said in a statement Friday. “We strongly condemn these disruptions, which have no place at our institution and are especially odious during a time of heightened stress.”

Disruptions took place at least twice Monday, according to the Daily Bruin, with someone shouting homophobic slurs during a chemistry class and then attacking participants’ appearances, and another person interrupting a calculus class with racist and homophobic slurs directed at the professor.

“I have never, ever heard anything that bad come out from somebody’s mouth in real life,” student Jenni Dabbert, who was verbally attacked during the chemistry class, told the Bruin. “I’m disgusted.”

Advertisement

UCLA said in a statement that it was offering support to affected students through UCLA Counseling and Psychological Services. It also said it was exploring additional security measures to minimize disruptions in the future.

A relatively new frontier of internet trolling, Zoom-bombing has become a growing problem as more classes, meetings and other gatherings are held online because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to shouting slurs, people sometimes take over the video portion of meetings with hateful images and pornography. Aside from school classes, they’ve targeted 12-step meetings, church services, local government sessions and community gatherings.

Attackers sometimes record their Zoom-bombings and post videos of them online for others to watch and comment on. Video of the chemistry class disruption at UCLA was posted to YouTube as part of a series of “Zoom Trolling” compilation videos, the Daily Bruin reported.

At USC, top administrators apologized to the school community in March after some virtual lectures fell prey to people crashing in with “racist and vile language.” Zoom said in a statement that it took “the security of Zoom meetings seriously, and we are deeply upset to hear about the incidents involving this type of attack.”

Advertisement

Similar incidents have also been reported at multiple L.A.-area high schools, and some grade-school teachers have said they’ve shied away from teaching their youngest students on the platform because of the potential security problem.

In April, someone interrupted a remote advising session at Cal State Fresno by bombing students and faculty with child pornography, officials said.

A City Council meeting in Laguna Beach was also interrupted when a viewer drew pornographic sketches on Zoom’s “whiteboard” feature and then began streaming pornography.

Such attacks prompted the FBI to warn that Zoom-bombing had become an emerging threat nationwide, saying in March that the agency had “received multiple reports of conferences being disrupted by pornographic and/or hate images and threatening language.”

Advertisement

Times staff writers Rosanna Xia, Howard Blume and Luke Money contributed to this report.


Advertisement
Advertisement