Members of a Black community association in Montreal are deeply hurt and disappointed after strangers hijacked their Zoom meeting, spewing racial slurs and profanities.
The incident happened on Friday during the West Island Black Community Association’s annual general meeting, which was open to the public for transparency. It was supposed to be a safe space to discuss community matters.
About six minutes in, several male voices were heard repeating the N-word and other racialized insults, and a young person wearing a pink balaclava appeared, mocking Black Lives Matter. The chat was also filled with profanity. HuffPost Canada has viewed a recording of the meeting.
“You know, it is like someone coming in to murder us with words.”
Within minutes, organizers, obviously shaken, muted the hackers, but the damage was already done.
“Well, now I think everyone around the table understands why we as people of colour, Black people and our allies who support us have to consistently be strong, be vigilant and be on the lookout for the people like those we just experienced,” said former chair Veronica Johnson on the Zoom call.
“It is horrible and it is debilitating and it is reminiscent of the day George Floyd was killed. You know, it is like someone coming in to murder us with words. It’s crazy.”
The association had to cut the meeting short as the hackers continued to interfere in the call, disrupting the shared screens.
“I’m personally traumatized right now,” chairperson Kemba Mitchell said before signing off.
Watch: Rise in cowardly and vicious ‘Zoom bombing.’ Story continues below.
In a statement Sunday, Mitchell said she had reported the incident to Montreal police and is working to implement security measures to prevent another attack from happening.
The non-profit organization provides educational and recreational programs such as a drop-in centre and tutoring for young people and cultural activities for seniors. It is also committed to ending systemic racism by holding anti-racism workshops, for example, and hosting town hall meetings with elected officials.
“We are shocked, hurt and extremely disappointed by the racially motivated incident that took place, but we are FAR from defeated,” she said in the statement. “Now more than ever we remain committed to seeking equality and justice for all.”
The practice of “Zoom bombing” — when people enter calls uninvited — has increased alongside the video platform’s popularity during pandemic lockdowns.
Ryerson University researchers studied social media platforms to understand the motivations behind Zoombombing. They found while a few incidents included light-hearted pranks, 87 per cent were classified as “bigoted.”
Twenty-nine per cent of incidents were racist or anti-semetic towards Black, Asian and Jewish communities. Most common were misogynistic insults, which were made in 43 per cent of cases.
“Such toxic practices of course pre-exist internet videoconferencing and will unfortunately persist long after the end of Zoom-bombing,” the researchers wrote in a Conversation article.
“We may all be experiencing the pandemic together, but Zoom-bombing has also reminded us that viral threats require social solutions.”