During the coronavirus pandemic, 4chan has launched at least 50 apparent “Zoombombing” attempts in six weeks
Users on 4chan, a message board site with ties to the far-right, have launched at least dozens of apparent attempts to sabotage sessions over Zoom, a videochat system widely used during the novel coronavirus pandemic, according to a Media Matters review.
Ever since governments around the globe started issuing stay-at-home orders to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, people have relied on Zoom, a videoconferencing service, for work, school, and other kinds of gatherings. Far-right and white nationalist figures have attempted to disrupt those sessions by joining them and spreading hate speech and other threatening and harassing messages, a tactic known as “Zoombombing.” Many efforts to target sessions on Zoom have been coordinated on multiple online platforms, and in late March the FBI issued a warning about the problem.
4chan, a message board site known to feature white nationalist and far-right trolls, is one of the platforms where people are coordinating such attempted harassment plots, by sharing supposed login information for Zoom sessions. A review by Media Matters found messages showing at least 50 clear and apparent “Zoombombing” attempts across multiple message boards on the site in a six-week span in April and May. While Media Matters was not able to verify the legitimacy of the information these users posted, nor to verify if all the attempts were successful (some were clearly not), the apparent attempts were aimed at multiple types of gatherings.
A significant portion of these attempts -- slightly more than half -- involved schools, with users often mentioning trying to interfere with classes or tests or mentioning targeting teachers, schools, or universities. Many of these attempts came from a board called “/b/,” which The Washington Post in 2014 described as “a kind of catch-all/release valve for all the rape porn, self-harm pics, and creepy drawings of scantily clad children that aren’t allowed in other forums.” In one post on the board, a user urged others to join a Zoom class at a New York college, calling the teacher a “fat bitch”; users wrote back implying they had joined the meeting and one wrote, “She closed the meeting ill send a new link in a few min. Good job lads.”
In another case, a user said they had an upcoming Zoom class with “an all-inclusive libtard teacher” and posted the meeting login and password, urging people to join and be “as toxic as humanly possible.”
Other classroom-related Zoom incidents on that board included a user urging people to “raid” a class and users then claiming they got it shut down due to masturbating during it; a user trying to get others to “crash” their younger brother’s Zoom class, writing that “gore, trap imagery, [and] horrible avatars would be much appreciated” and posting an image of a Nazi medal featuring a swastika; and a user asking others to “do your worst” to a “condescending bitch” teacher.
School-related Zoom harassment attempts were not exclusive to “/b/.” On “/r9k/,” a board with ties to “incels,” a user asked “frens” (a term for “friends” used by some to also mean fellow “far-right ethno-nationalists”) to “join my online class” since “its too boring.” And on “/pol/,” a white nationalist haven on the site, users were asked to target a “sex woker political debate” at a university and a “Zoom meeting for my holocaust class,” with people claiming they got that class shut down due to the attempted sabotage.
Some sessions hosted by nonprofits were also targeted on the site. In April, a user posted Zoom details for an event hosted by LGBTQ organizations, claiming it was “hosted by two tranny dads,” while in another thread a user posted details and a link for a Jewish organization’s Zoom session for Holocaust Remembrance Day, mentioning a “Zoombomb” and adding, “You all know what to do.”
Other nonprofit events targeted included a Zoom meeting for members of conservative group Turning Point USA, with the user calling it “a fun activity for those bored in quarantine,” and a Zoom session for the Tree of Life synagogue, the site of a mass shooting in 2018.
Politicians and government bodies were also targeted. In April, a user claimed there was “a congresswoman in this zoom call” and provided a Zoom code, urging people to “come give her a piece of your mind.” In May, a user proposed raiding a city council meeting, posting a flyer of what seemed to be information for a Zoom meeting.
Such attempts at coordinated online harassment are not a new phenomenon on 4chan. Over the years, users on the site have repeatedly organized harassment and sabotage campaigns. And during the pandemic, some users tried to hamper Pennsylvania’s efforts to contain the spread of the virus.