Black activists have always used every technological advance we can to organize for a safer, less hostile world for black people. Our ancestors used songs to send messages during slavery.
Following Reconstruction, leaders like Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ida B. Wells used newspapers to document lynching’s in the South. During the civil rights movement, our parents and grandparents used TV and photographic images to show the rest of the country, and the world, the horrific violence of the segregated south. In the ’70s and ’80s, they built and used radio stations to motivate souls to the polls and in the North, thereby creating a new cadre of black elected officials motivated to uplift their community. Today’s change makers have continued this legacy, using video conferencing platforms to bring people together without physical boundaries and organize for a better future.
But, in 2020, white supremacists are hiding behind computer screens instead of white hoods. Like in our past, white supremacists are trying to interrupt this progress with racist attacks, disruption and terrorism as they have so many times before. This time they have started Zoombombing, a coordinated effort by anonymous cyber terrorists to hack into private meetings and disseminate hateful messages. So Daughters of the Movement is joining the country’s largest online racial justice organization, Color Of Change, to demand Zoom and other video conference platforms make their platforms safe for Black people.
Daughters of the Movement are daughters of some of the most prominent leaders and contributors to civil rights movements in our country. We are Gina Belafonte, daughter of Julie and Harry Belafonte; Suzanne Kay, daughter of Diahann Carroll; Stacy Lynch, daughter of Bill Lynch; Hasna Muhammad, daughter of Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee; Ilyasah Shabazz, daughter of Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz; Dominique Sharpton, daughter of Reverend Al Sharpton; and Keisha Sutton-James, granddaughter of Percy Sutton.
Last month, while co-hosting an event with For Freedoms, a weekly virtual gathering on Zoom, we were Zoombombed as we shared lessons of resilience in times of crisis, gems that were passed on to us from our parents and grandparents. At a moment in time when our communities were under attack by an aggressive virus, and we were working to equip our guests with the wisdom our parents accessed to help them through trying times, white racists struck.
Anonymous trolls bombarded our private chat room with racist, sexist and violent language. They called us niggers, threatened to rape us, showed their genitals and shared live porn on our screens. This was a straightforward attack on us as black women, and Zoom did nothing to stop it.
Dr. Dennis Johnson, a doctoral candidate and member of Color Of Change, first drew attention to this issue after his dissertation presentation was Zoombombed by a racist cyber terrorist, who also drew crude images of genitalia on the screen, wrote expletives, and shared pictures and videos of pornography. Since then the number of stories has only grown. With work, education and social gatherings moving fully online in response to the spread of COVID-19, Zoom has facilitated the targeted harassment and surveillance of Black people online.
We know Zoom knows our demands because the company’s Global Compliance Officer Lynn Haaland took a meeting with Color Of Change to discuss its recommended policies. But while the company stopped minimizing these cyberterrorists as “party crashers” and released a new security policy, the company has not updated security protections or hired anyone on staff to mitigate issues of discrimination and inequity onto the platform. Their inaction speaks louder than any written words.
Zoom’s slow, minimal response to this phenomenon on its platform has exposed a company more concerned with protecting its financial interests than ensuring that everyone who uses the platform is safe and respected. Zoom should focus on caring about the sensitivity of its users and protecting the rights of often targeted groups.
If Zoom cares about its bottom line, it will take care to address our demands urgently. In the meantime, we are encouraged to hear that other video conferencing services are listening and taking steps to update their platforms to protect black people against these kinds of attacks.
Black people deserve platforms that are committed to ensuring our safety, and we will not cede the online space to white supremacists or allow technology executives to enable their behavior while raking in millions of dollars off our usage of their platforms. If Zoom continues to choose its profits over our lives, we will not hesitate to move our dollars elsewhere.
Our parents and grandparents taught us the power that we hold as a community when we come together for change. In quarantine, online spaces allow our communities to gather, to share resources, and to organize a path out of our current crisis—a path that is rooted in justice and love. That’s what we’re fighting to protect and that’s what we will win.
Sign the petition to demand Zoom protect black users from racist cyber attacks.
If you’ve been Zoombombed, you can tell your story too and help us show Zoom they have to take action NOW.
Daughters of the Movement are legacy holders. A group of women who sat at the feet of those who were on the front lines of the civil rights movement. They carry the oral history, cultural values, and wisdom passed down to us by some of the revolutionary leaders who turned the tide of American history.
Each week Color Of Change, the nation’s largest online racial justice organization will bring you frontline stories from #TheBlackResponse to COVID-19, highlighting the ways Black people are taking action and demanding progress during the pandemic and beyond.