By: Mario Cosentino

When a student attends a class or joins a study group in an academic building or in the library, there is a certain expectation of privacy held by these students.  This privacy would be broken if an uninvited person invaded said space and started shouting profanities and distracting these individuals.

According to Messiah College’s Director of Learning Services Susan Shannon, that is exactly what is happening right now on the internet.

“You would not want people barging into that room disturbing your privacy.  That’s what’s happening with Zoombombing,” Shannon said.

Zoombombing is the general term given to the act of “crashing” video platforms like Zoom with the intent of distracting the participants in the meeting.  In many instances, the intruder took over the call to display inappropriate images or shout racial slurs. It may sound childish or prank-like, but these “hacks” have been serious enough that the FBI issued a warning.

While this is a serious problem in a world that has shifted to meeting online, there are simple precautions that students and teachers can take to protect themselves while on Zoom and on similar platforms.

Messiah’s IT department has put together a guide to help teachers use security measures that Zoom has to offer, like requiring a password to get into the classroom or by establishing a waiting room.

The latter is less practical for larger meetings because the host must invite each student into the meeting one by one from the waiting room.

“For larger classes, what a faculty member can do is set up a long strong password on their room and say ‘For this time [and] purpose, this is the link that I’m gonna use for this session and I’m gonna share the password separately to the students in that class.’ And students have a responsibility to not share that information,” Shannon said.

Teachers also have the ability to mute a particular student’s audio, video, and can even kick them out of the meeting if needed.

It is then up to the students to not share the link or the password to the meeting with anyone outside of the class, even if they have no intention of distracting the class.  Shannon explains that when an outside person is invited into the class without the teacher’s permission, they are violating FERPA and Messiah’s Appropriate Use Policies.

“When people are invited in [who are] friends of other people into the class, that privacy is divulged.  That takes away from the privacy of the students in the class,” Shannon said.

There have been breaches of privacy during Messiah related meetings and classes.  Shannon could not provide details on these incidents, but she did say that it “was disruptive to the class and it should not have happened.”

Another feature that teachers can control to limit distractions in class is the chat feature.  Student’s have the ability to message one another without the teacher knowing. If the teacher fears that it is a distraction, they have the power to turn it off.  IT hopes to inform teachers how to use these features now that online classes have been established.

“When we moved to online, we just needed to get a system in place and we’re just now catching up to being able [to help] everybody know all of these settings and how to use them,” Shannon said.

Shannon added that students and teachers should not be worried about Zoombombing if they respect one another’s privacy and learn how to use the tools provided by Zoom.

“In addition to being aware of the tools that we’re using, we all need to be  socially responsible with the tools we are using. That’s life in the digital world.”