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UCLA works to secure online learning environments after ‘Zoombombing’ disruptions

UCLA officials are working to address multiple Zoom lecture interruptions that took place Tuesday where people disrupted classes with vulgar audio and chat messages. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Christina Williams

April 2, 2020 8:14 pm

UCLA officials are taking steps to avoid recent “Zoombombing” incidents in which people interrupt online lectures with vulgar audio and chat messages.

The university is working on providing support to students and faculty who were verbally attacked during the incidents, which took place during the first week of spring online instruction, Chancellor Gene Block said in a campuswide email Wednesday.

“To all those who were targeted, to all those whose classes or meetings were disrupted, to all those whose sense of belonging was compromised, we promise we will do all we can to make sure UCLA fulfills its goal to create an equal learning environment that rejects bigotry and respects the value and dignity of everyone in our community,” Block said.

Block added that law enforcement is working with UCLA to put a name to those accountable for the Zoombombing incidents, and he also said that those who experience incidents of bias can report them on the Office of the Dean of Students website.

Dean of Students Maria Blandizzi said in a Facebook post that her office received reports of Zoombombing incidents, and added that her office will continue to hold students accountable to the Student Conduct Code, which prohibits harassment and disorderly behavior.

“As our campus community makes a challenging, uncertain transition to online learning amidst global panic and rising fatalities, certain individuals are choosing to spend their time by harassing, belittling, and attacking some of us,” Blandizzi said. “And that is not OK.”

Zoom has in place a set of features for additional security while in the classrooms.

Meeting hosts can silence and disable the video of participants. Hosts can also restrict participants’ ability to chat among one another while the class is going on, as well as remove them from a meeting.

“We are deeply upset to hear about the incidents involving this type of attack,” said Janine Pelosi, Zoom’s chief marketing officer. “We take the security of Zoom meetings seriously and in order to prevent such incidents from occurring, we strongly encourage users to arrange their settings so that only hosts can share their screens, and utilize features such as ‘Waiting Room’ and host muting controls.”

Zoom has encouraged education users in particular to follow this guidance and it recently updated the default screen sharing settings for the education users so teachers by default are the only ones who can share content in class, Pelosi said.

Professors, like Tim Groeling, who teaches communication at UCLA, are engaging with their departments to protect and secure the online learning environment.

“We talked about it as part of a faculty meeting,” Groeling said. “We’re going to have to restrict access to enrolled students by using passwords or other means.”

Groeling said dealing with both the Zoombombers and the outbreak altogether may be unnerving, but added that he hopes the interruptions will be a short-term inconvenience.

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