You’ve probably heard of “zoombombing,” a kind of cyberattack in which unwanted guest(s) disrupt Zoom meetings. Oftentimes, zoombombers are interested in cheap pranks or distracting meeting hosts and participants. But on rare occasions, their distractions are more malicious: offensive images, hate speech, or pornographic material.
Whether unamusing pranks or malicious trolling, zoombombing is an unwanted distraction in our precious learning spaces that can have profound effects on the participants in our class meetings, instructors and students alike. Thankfully, there are easy steps to both prevent and mitigate zoom-attacks.
The IU Keep Teaching video “Managing Disruptions during Zoom Meetings” is a great place to start. In this 3-minute video, you’ll learn how to prevent screen sharing, remove an unwanted participant, and lock down your meeting. In addition, refer to Keep Teaching’s guide to preventing Zoombombing, which details steps to prevent Zoom-attacks and secure your Zoom room.
If you end up with an uninvited guest in your Zoom session, don’t panic.
Step 1: eliminate the intruder’s disruption and get them out of the meeting. See the Keep Teaching Guide for directions to
- Mute the intruder
- Block them from sharing their screen
- Remove them from the meeting
- Prevent them from coming back in
If this doesn’t work, end the meeting right away, with a quick promise to send out a new address to resume the class. Then you can send out an invite to a new meeting, and set it up so that there’s a waiting room. The waiting room will allow you to admit into the class session only students whose names you recognize, or only those who are on your roster for the class.
Step 2: Afterward, acknowledge to students that the intrusion happened, and that students (and you) might feel upset. Being human in this moment (letting your feelings show a little) might not be a bad thing. Take the opportunity to condemn the inappropriate behavior and reinforce the class’s and institution’s values. Research has shown that failing to address racial incidents with students can have a negative impact on students and the class (Harper & Davis, 2016), and that in other crises, students appreciate instructors addressing incidents rather than ignoring them (Huston & DiPietro, 2007)
Step 3: Be sure to give students an opportunity to process the incident, either immediately after the incident occurs (if you feel up to it), after the class (via email or Canvas), or at the next class session. You could invite students to respond in an open discussion, but be prepared with an alternative if students respond with silence. For example, you could invite them to respond in writing—in the chat window, via email, or in a discussion board set up for that purpose. If there are disciplinary connections to be made to the incident, leverage those as a teachable moment.
Make sure students know where they can go for more help, if they need to talk with someone (the Health Center’s Counseling Services, the Bias Incident Response team, etc.). Let them know you are taking actions to make future meetings more secure, and refer to the resources here or your campus teaching center to make that happen.
Step 4: Pass along the incident to the appropriate offices.
- Notify the University Information Security Office (through Protect IU), so they can investigate. More information about reporting IT security issues can be found in this Knowledge Base document.
- Also notify the Bias Incident Response Team in the Division of Student Affairs, since they keep track of occurrences that have bias/hate elements (racist and sexist attacks are common in Zoombombing).
- Finally, keep in mind that if particular students are struggling to deal with the attack, you can submit their names for a Care Referral; when you do this, someone from the Division of Student Affairs will reach out to the student to help.
Step 5. Set up subsequent meetings to prevent it from happening again:
- Schedule a consult with your campus teaching and learning center to review your Zoom security settings. Revisit the “What you can do before a meeting” section on IU’s Keep Teaching Website. There you will learn multiple options to secure your room, such as password protection, audio/video settings, limiting the room to authenticated users, and enabling a waiting room.
- Ask your AI to co-host future class sessions, if they attend class on a regular basis. They can monitor the class and be ready to remove intruders.
- Engage in some self-care: take a walk, do some yoga, call a friend, take time to read a good book, or watch some escapist television.
We hope your online class discussions never get Zoombombed, but if they do, we hope you will be ready to reach out to students with the personal care that will let you make your class community even stronger than it was before.
Harper, S. R., & Davis III, C. H. (2016). Eight actions to reduce racism in college classrooms. Academe, 102(6), 30-34. (https://www.aaup.org/article/eight-actions-reduce-racism-college-classrooms)
Huston, Therese A., & DiPietro, Michele. (2007). In the eye of the storm: Students perceptions of helpful faculty actions following a collective tragedy. In D. R. Robertson & L. B. Nilson (Eds.) To Improve the Academy: Vol 25. Resources for faculty, instructional, and organizational development. Bolton, MA: Anker. pp. 207-224.
Many thanks to the CITL team who collaborated on this post: Lisa Kurz, Jennifer Turrentine, and Joan Middendorf.