Hackers infiltrated the first Associated Students of Portland State University (ASPSU) Zoom meeting of spring term on March 30 via zoom-bombing—the act of joining and disrupting a Zoom meeting, often with hate speech or graphic content. The hackers interrupted speakers with racist invective and ties to Nazism.
The hackers joined the Student Fee Committee’s (SFC) morning Zoom meeting, but did not turn on their cameras. They repeated racial slurs verbally and through the chat feature. Zoom-bombers also hit the Senate meeting on the same day, acting exactly as the previous hackers did. Candace Avalos, coordinator of student government relations, who co-hosted the meeting, removed the intruders.
Five minutes later, a man joined the meeting, this time with video as well as audio. Keeping his face hidden, he displayed a large swastika tattoo on his chest, declared “Heil Hitler” and spewed racial slurs. Avalos removed him as quickly as possible. A debate ensued among the ASPSU members over how or even if the meeting should continue.
Ernesto Dominguez, equal rights director for ASPSU, attended the morning’s SFC meeting and warned the disruptions could happen again.
“The SFC meeting got locked down to where you could only join if you had a passcode,” Dominguez said. “So that meant that for the rest of that meeting no one else could join. Although I understand why they ended up doing that, in terms of equity and in terms of visibility and transparency, I don’t think that was the right move to do.”
“There are other ways to stop that from happening that weren’t being used,” Dominguez continued. “I didn’t want to continue having Senate in the way we were having it without having security up and I was overruled. But that’s my job as equal rights [director] to look at access and equity.”
After the disruptions to the Senate meeting, Avalos screened members of the public in a waiting room before admitting them to the meeting. By partnering with the Office of Information Technology, ASPSU can attempt to identify the perpetrators. However, fake identities are easy to create online.
“It presents a really challenging situation,” said Dominguez.
“We’re trying to find a way to not violate Oregon’s public meetings law, but also protect students,” said ASPSU Vice President Alexandra Modjeski.
ASPSU is brainstorming how best to keep its meetings open and accessible to the public without providing a platform for hate speech. PSU emails are now required to access Zoom links to Senate and SFC meetings. Links are located in the agenda, which is posted on ASPSU’s public drive before every meeting.