Zoombombing: Darkness, Fear, & Light During a Pandemic

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Wherever people gather, evil follows. This is not some outside force. This is not a cartoonish devil or demon trying dissuade people from following their purest desires. We bring evil with us. James 1.14 says that we are tempted by our own evil desires, not by God. The harassment finding its way to Zoom came with us. We are the contaminant. Thus, even in the face a pandemic that should draw the world together, we find ways to pester, badger, tease, and disrupt one another’s gatherings.

Several news outlets (here, here, and here) have reported about a new form of evil: zoombombing. Zoombombing refers to cyber harassment during a video conference. As more people use Zoom, a video conference platform, the FBI warns that people are hijacking video calls and posting racist or obscene images and words.

Zoom is rapidly becoming a proprietary eponym, or trademarked product that has become a generic noun. Zoom can refer to video conference calls, like Google Hangouts, Skype, and GoToMeeting. A proprietary eponym is like Kleenex referring to tissues or Xerox referring to photocopies. However, this particular warning relates to the real Zoom.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the real Zoom is everywhere. Anecdotally, I have witnessed a complete spectrum of people using Zoom. It seems to know no boundaries between people who are tech-savvy and luddites. Everyone seems to use it, and because people refer to it so often, some prefer it because they hear others refer to having a “Zoom meeting.”

In my context, congregants meet to overcome social distancing. It’s nice just to see one another’s faces. We also meet to conduct the work of the church. Several committees have used Zoom to hold their meetings. Racial slurs, profanity, or pornography won’t ruin our gatherings if we don’t let it. The moderator of a meeting can quickly shut out the offending party and the gathering can continue.

I would prefer a world where zoombombing does not exist. Yet, when someone makes that much effort to join an online church gathering, we can lift that person up in prayer. We can speak directly to the offender and invite him to sip the living water of John 4 and see a richer path.

One person told me that the “Chinese are listening” to our Zoom conversations. To that person, I said, “Let them.” I did not mean it with any snark or sarcasm. What better outreach than to have some poor spy in Moscow hearing about the love of Christ from a church gathering? To me, that would be fantastic. I can imagine a movie with Kenneth Branagh playing the spy. He would listen dutifully to his assigned American Zoom channels. One day, he would hear a middle-aged minister telling people that God loves them. Obviously, I would play myself. My voice would continue ringing in his ear as we watch him go through his daily life. He starts stalking his newfound target via the internet. He pulls some strings to move from digital espionage to visit his target in Charlottesville. In a dramatic twist, he would make a profession of faith and the minister would baptize him. Brilliant! If that’s the outcome of someone listening to my Zoom calls, let it be!

Of course, it would be horrible for someone to interrupt a Zoom call that includes children and post pornography or racial slurs. Of course, it is disruptive and offensive. Instead of focusing on the negative possibilities and letting fear take hold. We can be the light. We can live with the hope that Christ will shine through the darkness.

Zoom is actively trying to prevent future zoombombing. While they work on it, Christians can live in the hope of Psalm 71.5. “For you, O Lord, are my hope.” We don’t have blind hope. Moderators of Zoom calls can learn how to block a participant before they need the skill. Also, moderators should not start a call and then leave. Be vigilant, but don’t lose hope. Don’t stop being the light. We can shine the light of Christ even as the darkness of human sin creeps into new places.

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