The Association of African American Students (AAAS) cookout, which was held virtually over Zoom Friday night, was hacked with racist slurs, images and curse words.
Toneia Douglas, president-elect of AAAS, said cookout attendees weren’t initially aware the hack was happening until they heard what the hackers were saying.
“We realized what they were saying and, of course, it took people by surprise, but what we were hearing was racial slurs, cuss words, the N-word was said numerous times, and everybody that was on the Zoom call, their mouth just dropped,” the third-year public health student said.
Most of the hackers did not have their video enabled, but Douglas said the two or three people who did have their video on did not show their faces and had racist imagery set as their background.
“They had it to where the background was a picture. So, I know one of the pictures displayed a white person in blackface," Douglas said. "Another one of the pictures had a swastika on it."
Douglas said the hackers came into the meeting at about 6:50 p.m., less than an hour after the cookout started. The participant count abruptly shot up from about 21 to 41 users shortly before the hackers began using the chat feature to hurl racial slurs.
“I think it was — had to be over 200 messages that were sent, that were just saying the same thing over and over again, and honestly, it was very scary, the things that they were saying,” Douglas said.
The Office of Multicultural Student Affairs (OMSA) hosted the Zoom meeting and tried to shut down the chat feature. Douglas said the hackers were able to reenable the chat multiple times.
“I've actually been informed by OMSA, who was the host of the Zoom call, that they tried to disable the chat twice while this was going on, and whoever hacked into the Zoom or whatever, had enabled it again, so they could continue to send these messages,” Douglas said.
After about 10 minutes, the organization ended the Zoom call and later started another one that was password protected.
University President Bob Caslen released a statement over Twitter saying the university is investigating the hack. University spokesperson Jeff Stensland said in a text interview that the USC Division of IT will aid in the investigation.
Douglas said the incident was “frustrating,” especially considering everything happening in the world currently with the pandemic.
“It's just a lot to think about and a lot to deal with, in a time that we can't even see each other face to face,” Douglas said. “I think that's making it a little bit harder because we can't support each other physically, only through social media or text messages.”
Student Government officials released a statement via Twitter that said, “we strongly condemn the actions of these individuals during the AAAS event. Discrimination of any form will never be tolerated within our university and those responsible for this hateful act will be held accountable.”
“Videoconferencing security is a major concern and there are well documented problems with Zoom and, unfortunately, incidents like these have occurred nationwide," Stensland said. "We strongly recommend that our campus community use alternative platforms."