Understanding the ‘Zoom Boom’: Videoconferencing, Zoom University and zoombombings

Students have humorously alluded to themselves as “Zoomers” since the coronavirus pandemic pushed universities nationwide to adopt online learning. Instantaneously, Zoom has become an essential social stage for many individuals as well as an important tool of higher education.

The newest joke among college students is that they all go to “Zoom University,” which is the same school, but online. Zoom University memes continue to dominate social media platforms, and there is also merchandise available on websites such as Amazon and eBay.

“Recently, my friends have come back from college from central Florida and the southeastern part of the United States and we have used Zoom in order to communicate,” said Elisabeth Mitrano, a sophomore majoring in gender sexuality studies.

Zoom Video Communications is a videoconferencing organization that was launched in 2011 by Eric Yuan, a previous Cisco Systems executive. Its recent thrust into the spotlight made the Zoom iOS app become the most downloaded free app in Apple’s App Store last month.

As declarations of stay-at-home orders begin to rise and social distancing continues to be enforced, Zoom has become a cultural phenomenon. Many people use the app to host anything from religious services and academic lectures to dance parties and musical shows.

“I use Zoom to keep in contact with my friends and we do calls every now and then for a game night or to chat as a group,” said Jess Green, a junior majoring in marketing.

“Even before we all went online, I would have a video call with my best friends who go to schools across the country, every two weeks,” said Ronen Pink, a junior double majoring in business technology and management. “Now that we are all stuck home I’ve definitely Zoomed my groups of friends more often.”

However, despite the growing popularity of Zoom, its use has also ushered in concerns over privacy, safety, content regulation and responsiveness to the importance of the pandemic. One of the main issues with Zooming is the possibility for zoomboming— the newest form of internet trolling.

Zoombombing occurs when an uninvited person joins a Zoom meeting to cause disruptions. Zoombombers often display racial slurs, profanity or pornography during the videoconference.

On Apr. 3, University of Miami Hillel’s virtual Shabbat service was zoombombed with antisemitic, racist speech and pornographic images. And this is not an isolated incident, with many other virtual Jewish communities also experiencing being zoombombings.

In response to the incident, UM Hillel released a statement on facebook, saying “even in the midst of a global pandemic, each of us is yearning for connection and community and we are so proud that UM Hillel remains a source of strength and stability.”

Spencer Schwartz, a junior majoring in nursing, said she has not experienced being zoombombed in one of her classes yet. However, she said that she was very disturbed by the zoombombing event that occured during Hillel’s virtual Shabbat service.

“I was very shocked and concerned by what had happened during the virtual service,” said Schwartz. “Since then, Hillel has increased their security by requiring a password and other measures, however the whole thing is still very unsettling to me.”

“None of the three classes that take place online have been zoombombed,” said Mitrano. “Yet, one of my gender studies professors has been very cautious as she now began to accept the students one by one to make sure that only her students are admitted.”

In another incident, a UM professor from the business school, shared his screen during a Zoom class; one of the tabs on his Bookmarks Bar pertained to pornographic content. A student made a TikTok that showed the Zoom class in session, with the Bookmark tab that read “Busty college girl” shown on the professor’s screen. The video quickly went viral on Snapchat, Reddit and TikTok.

The professor later emailed a statement to the class stating, “I was made aware of the following. A screen of a “Bookmarks Bar” from the class was shared… Please delete it and stop sharing… I am investigating this issue.”

As both students and faculty continue to adapt to the new Zoom boom, UM Communications has released several tips and strategies that can maintain security and prevent the spread of sensitive content during Zoom meetings:

  • Set a meeting password for certain participants to gain entry
  • Enable a waiting room to control when participants join a meeting
  • Limit screen sharing to only the host
  • Ensure you are using the latest version of the Zoom client

To further ensure security measures are in place, UM Communications has also advised the community to disable the following features: “join before host,” “lock the meeting,” “remove a participant” and “restrict who can join.” These strategies aim to combat more issues from arising through Zoom, the university said.

“Although the transition to Zoom was an unprecedented step for both students and faculty, I hope that this app helps bring the UM community together by having a safe platform where we can learn and build ideas, ” said Mitrano. “But this can not happen if we do not abide by the security measures in place.”

Featured image source: pexels.com