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‘Zoom-Bomber’ Crashes Penn State Black History Month Event

Update, 8 a.m. Tuesday: Penn State University Police and Public Safety are officially investigating the “Zoom-bombing” incident that allegedly occurred at a virtual University Park diversity event Monday night.

In a statement, the university said evidence suggests the incident was racially motivated. Event attendees said the unwanted Zoom user allegedly depicted themself as a police officer to “reenact” the police killing of George Floyd and direct hate speech at guests. Penn State also suggested the Zoom-bomber brandished a firearm.

Penn State said a similar event, potentially linked by the same suspect, also occurred at its Brandywine campus. At this time, neither police nor the university has indicated the individual is affiliated with Penn State in any way.

“These vile activities are reprehensible and the disruption and trauma they create is inexcusable,” Penn State President Eric Barron said. “We must continue to stand strong together against these appalling incidents and show that our community will not tolerate the hate-filled words and actions of those who hide behind the anonymity of a computer screen. These are criminal activities and, if found, we will hold the perpetrators responsible.”

University police are working alongside Penn State’s Office of Information Security throughout the investigation. Anyone with information about the incidents should contact police at (814) 863-1111 or submit a tip online.

“We encourage people to report incidents to campus police directly so they can be investigated,” said Richard Sparrow, Penn State’s interim chief information security officer. “There are many cases where we have been able to identify Zoom bombers and referred them to law enforcement.

Original Story: An unidentified individual allegedly joined a diversity event sponsored by Penn State’s Gender Equity Center Monday night to direct hate speech and “horrific” gestures at guests.

At approximately 6:15 p.m., an unwanted individual reportedly joined the call and began disrupting “Pioneers of Prevention: Black Women Activists Against Sexual Violence,” a virtual conversation that aimed to discuss Black women activists who led movements against sexual violence and rape in America. The event was one of many featured in Penn State’s Black History Month lineup.

According to GroupMe messages obtained by Onward State, witnesses at the event said the Zoom-bomber “reenacted” the police killing of George Floyd by dressing as an officer and pinning down a mannequin. The individual also shouted threats about “raping Black women” while event guests discussed disproportionate threats of sexual assault against Black and white women.

Shayna Berman, Phi Sigma Sigma sorority’s diversity chair, said the “Zoom-bomber” also showed “horrific” videos of assaults on Black men and women. The individual was removed by the meeting’s host immediately after.

“This event was supposed to be a safe environment to educate women in Greek Life as part of the celebration of Black History Month,” Berman said.

At this time, the alleged assailant hasn’t been identified. One event attendee said the Zoom-bomber reportedly used a forged IP address.

Penn State did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the alleged incident.

Last month, Penn State’s Black Caucus received a similar “Zoom-bombing” that resulted in hate speech directed toward several executives. Penn State police responded by launching an investigation in an attempt to hold the alleged assailants accountable.

Moving forward, the university encourages students to take steps to protect their Zoom meetings. Namely, they should avoid sharing meeting passwords in public channels or changing default security settings.

The university also encouraged Zoom hosts to control how participants can join, allow only authenticated users in, limit screen-sharing, and record meetings to help identify potential unwanted users.

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About the Author

Matt DiSanto

By day, Matt is a senior majoring in journalism. By night, he's Onward State's managing editor. He's a huge Philadelphia sports fan, fantasy football lover, and washed-up drummer hailing from Collegeville, Pa. The quickest way to his heart is Margherita pizza and "Arrested Development" quotes. Follow him on Twitter @mattdisanto_ if you hate yourself or email Matt at [email protected] if you hate him.

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