African and Caribbean society event hijacked by racist and homophobic abusers

CW: Homophobia and racism

An event hosted on Zoom by the University of Edinburgh’s African and Caribbean society in partnership with Edinburgh Global, celebrating black and LGBT culture, was infiltrated by attackers shouting racist and homophobic slurs on Sunday evening. 

The event, entitled “Pro-Black and Anti-Gay?” was timed to coincide with Caribbean week and LGBTQ + history month and intended to focus on how communities could “move forward, learn to be accepting of each other and love ourselves”. 

The event was all but finished and the floor had been opened up to questions, when the attackers joined, via a link that was not password protected. 

They attackers played pornongraphy that featured black individuals, shouted homophobic chants and used racial slurs such as “White power”. 

Using the Zoom chat function, the attackers were then able to individually message homophobic slurs to everyone attending the event. 

In a statement posted to Instagram, the University of Edinburgh’s African and Caribbean society said: 

“This was a horrible occurrence that should never be repeated. 

“We maintain a zero-tolerance on any form of discrimination and this was a horrible occurrence that should never be repeated.

“This crime will be reported to the higher authorities.

“We are doubling our efforts to to uplift the voices of more queer people of colour and other marginalised groups.”

Speaking to The Student, the organiser of the event spoke about his initial reaction to the attack:

“Once the initial shock and confusion wore off, I felt scared. This was just a small-scale society event, it’s the last place you expect to feel unsafe.

“But my mind was racing, instantly wondering how much personal information the attackers might have had access to and whether there could be a physical threat.

“We still don’t know whether the attackers were even from or how they found us – they could have been other students or maybe just racists and homophobes from anywhere in the world.

“After a few minutes of being bombarded with slurs, threats and genocidal wishes, we had regained control and were able to finish the event.”

The organiser said that the incident had left him “shaken and incredibly deflated”, adding:

“I’m no stranger to racist or homophobic abuse but when it’s as organised, coordinated and unexpected as this, it seems to cut deeper.

“You hardly want to move afterwards, you feel so tiny and hopeless.”

In a further development, the Edinburgh University Students’ Association today released a statement, signed by all five sabbatical officers, condemning the attack and pledging to work with the “University information Services Group to discuss digital safety and how to keep our groups safe from all forms of discrimination and harassment.”

A University of Edinburgh spokesperson said:

“We were horrified to hear that our students had suffered this kind of abuse. The University of Edinburgh is committed to promoting a positive culture which celebrates difference, challenges prejudice and ensures fairness. The University regards any incident of discrimination as a serious matter.”

The attack raises questions as to the role of technology companies, such as Zoom, in preventing these sorts of attacks and banning individuals who participate in them. 

Currently Zoom’s privacy statements and the platform’s rights of use, allow the company to collect data about users’ “approximate location” and place cookies on the devices of those that use its video chat. 

This data could potentially be passed on to law-enforcement authorities should an investigation into the incident be deemed necessary. 

Image: Edinburgh University Students’ Association