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Close to Home: Zoom bombing, it isn’t a pretty picture

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and don’t necessarily reflect The Press Democrat editorial board’s perspective. The opinion and news sections operate separately and independently of one another.

I was just Zoom bombed. I was scheduled to participate in a Zoom event sponsored by the Occidental Center for the Arts. Just as the meeting was about to start, the screen was filled with the “n” word repeated over and over and over again.

Then, a voice addressed me with another kind of bomb: “Jonah, f--- you, old man.” Yet another voice crudely addressed the female host of the event.

Friends and acquaintances who heard about the Zoom bombing told me, “That’s terrible.” No, it isn’t. When a fire consumes your house, that’s terrible.

Others told me, “You must have done something to offend people,” as though I was to blame. Sorry, folks, the onus is on the Zoom bombers, not on their targets. Please don’t blame the victim.

A Sonoma State University event also was Zoom bombed recently. I received an email from a spokesperson for the university who informed me that there was “a racist and bigoted Zoom hijacking incident that occurred during a virtual event that was part of Sonoma State’s Black History Month program.” She added, “We will refrain from sharing details of what occurred, because we refuse to provide these cowardly bigoted individuals the platform they seek.”

Jonah Raskin
Jonah Raskin

According to Wikipedia, Zoom bombing “refers to the unwanted, disruptive intrusion, generally by Internet trolls, into a videoconference call.” I would add that it is rude, crude and not protected speech. The First Amendment does not give individuals or groups the right to disrupt and sabotage public meetings, whether they are virtual or not.

I think that Sonoma State should share and publicize the remarks that disrupted the Black History Month program. We don’t need the university to filter information, even if it’s racist and sexist. We're adults. We can handle it. That’s why I have alluded to the “n” word and the “f” word in this commentary.

When I taught a Sonoma State, racists would spray paint the “n” word on walls, and Black students were subjected to it when they went off campus and ventured into Rohnert Park.

We need to have open discussion about racist and sexist language. We can’t sweep it under the carpet. Racism and sexism are here in our community. Passing resolutions denouncing racism, which the Sonoma State faculty did after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police, is nice, but not nearly enough. Let's have teach-ins. Let’s educate ourselves, our students, their friends and their parents.

Zoom bombing is not fun, especially if you are the target. The spokesperson for Sonoma State was right when she called the people who disrupted the Black History Month event “cowards.” The people who sabotaged my event signed up using aliases.

Yet in some ways, we ought to thank the saboteurs. They’ve revealed the nasty racism and sexism and ageism that exists here and now.

Jonah Raskin is a professor emeritus at Sonoma State University. He lives in Cotati.

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The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and don’t necessarily reflect The Press Democrat editorial board’s perspective. The opinion and news sections operate separately and independently of one another.

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