How to prevent “Zoombombing” from disrupting virtual services – Episcopal News Service


As Zoom and other video conferencing services become more and more common, so too are the disruptions known as “Zoombombing”. Image: Information Service on Religion

[Religion News Service – Boston, Massachusetts] On Sunday, Alex Merritt was logged into the Zoom video conferencing app, discussing a Bible passage with members of his Sunday School young adult group at St. David’s Episcopal Church in Austin, Texas.

Then the trolls attacked.

Some began to share their screens and draw obscene pictures on the text the group had discussed. “You are hacked! You are hacked! we shouted. Another turned on his video and began to reveal his genitals.

“It was generally chaotic and unstoppable,” Merritt recalls. “It was a huge wake-up call for me because I’m a teacher at a public elementary school, and I don’t want the kids in my class exposed to any of the porn images the trolls sent us.”

The massive transition from places of worship to Zoom and other online video conferencing platforms has made religious services more accessible than ever.

Unfortunately for digital devotees, this means they’re also more accessible to online trolls who have plenty of free time to disrupt their services with obscene or hateful interruptions.

Merritt’s church group, which had to end its meeting and organize a new one, initially put a public Zoom link on its website. Now, the group will only send the link to members of its private Facebook groups, which have all been approved.

“I think places of worship need to be very careful when putting public Zoom links on their websites, especially if those links point to meeting spaces where there will be young children,” Merritt told Religion News Service. “Places of worship, ideally, want to be places that everyone can attend. For now, they need to strike a balance between this desire to be open to all who seek and the reality that there are people who would sabotage these digital spaces. “

The epidemic of “Zoom bombing“spared no one, with trolls finding meeting links that were posted online, then sharing and drawing graphic content on participants’ screens – leaving schools and universities, churches and synagogues with no other choice but to abruptly close their meetings.

A Shabbat service hosted via Zoom by a Bay Area synagogue was crushed by the Nazis. Massachusetts Unitarian Universalist Church saw live service on YouTube flooded with dislikes. A church service broadcast live in Los Angeles was hacked and replaced with porn. A Zoom webinar last week with the People’s Forum, an activist-oriented cultural space run by theologian Claudia de la Cruz, was disrupted by a troll who posted the n-word in the chat window multiple times until that administrators block it.

“My heart sank when I saw this happen,” said Reverend Jason Wells, who joined the event at the People’s Forum in Concord, New Hampshire, and saw the racist messages. “There are a lot of excellent justice workers out there and I felt depressed when I thought about how it would affect everyone there. “

On Sunday morning, Reverend Laura Everett was on Zoom at First Baptist Church in Boston, preaching on the death when users outside the church congregation hijacked the service.

After finding a link to the meeting, which Everett tweeted so his followers could hook up to his sermon, the trolls began to force racist and anti-LGBT hate speech onto attendees’ screens.

“Hate doesn’t end in a pandemic,” she tweeted as church leaders ended the meeting and reconvened in a password-protected web conference. “The Lord has mercy.”

The disturbance left Everett thinking of the “deep break” of the men who harassed her and her followers.

“Frankly, as a preacher I have enough work now: exeget the scriptures, say something wise during a pandemic? »Everett tweeted after. “Preach the sermon, set up Run Tech, live stream to FB / Twitter / Zoom. What I don’t need is more work from the internet trolls pushing and harassing me and the congregation.

Combined with the desire to keep the doors of their churches open to the masses, the novelty of many religious leaders with technology means they are struggling to protect their services from such disruption.

Many faith-based organizations, including the New England United Methodist Church and the United Church of Christ Southern New England Conference, started sharing tips with members on how to avoid Zoombombing. Zoom’s own blog has published an extensive to guide features that hosts can use to protect their meetings.

“If you don’t advertise how to attend the meeting, it becomes much more difficult for people to join the meeting in the first place,” wrote David Sim, a Church of Scotland intern pastor who created a to guide to prevent Zoombombing. “It can be counterintuitive when we want to welcome everyone, so it may not be possible in all cases – for example for our public worship where we want everyone to join. However, if you have a business meeting, messy church, or small prayer meeting, you can share membership details via email or text when needed.

Merritt, who began researching ways to protect his students as he switched to distance education, recommended administrators turn off screen sharing and annotations during meetings. Otherwise, any participant who joins the meeting can share content from their own screen or draw anything on the shared screen.

He also urged places of worship to enable Zoom’s waiting room feature so the host can approve people to join the meeting and be prepared to exclude any unknown users from the meeting.

And don’t forget to pray for those who harassed you, Merritt said.

While his own group was too harassed by the intrusion to do it together, he said, “in retrospect, it seems like the obvious Christian thing to do!”

This article was originally published by Religion News Service.


Perry A. Thomasson