Student’s name impersonated, used to spread racist messages via remote learning chat room

Students, families, and school districts across our region are still getting used to our new normal ever since the pandemic forced classes to move online but those changes open up a host of new challenges and risks.

One Eastside family claims a bad-actor assumed their student’s identity inside a Zoom classroom to spread derogatory and racist language.

It happened inside the class’s chat room where not only the teacher but all the other students could see the messages. What’s worse, a screenshot of the incident ended up on social media.

“I’ve been kicked off due to WIFI problems,” said 14-year-old Liam Booth. He described the new challenges as remote learning kicked off his freshman year at Mount Si High School last week.

Liam and hundreds of other kids are not learning at the new school building in Snoqualmie, instead Liam is learning from a distance from inside his own bedroom. It what happened Friday that has his parents worried about online security.

“The school district really needs to look into how they’re going to keep our kids names private and secure in Zoom,” said Liam’s mom Mia Booth.

It happened during his last class of the week, creative cooking, when Liam says someone else changed their name to match his own and then began posting racist language inside the class’ Zoom chat room. Liam says his classmates immediately called him out

“My brother got a phone call from a friend saying, ‘Hey, did Liam say this stuff?” recalled Liam.

But the hateful message didn’t stay inside the chat room. Liam’s family says a screengrab of the hateful comments, connected to his name, ended up on social media.

“Went from the secure Zoom platform in school out into social media within an hour of class,” said Mia.

“All of these laws and rules exist is because someone screwed them up,” said cybersecurity expert Bryan Seely.

Businesses have had troubles with hackers messing with our new work from home reality during the pandemic. Strangers have been able to hijack meetings and some virtual classrooms spreading pornographic or hateful messages in a phenomenon called Zoombombing.

Seely says Liam’s problem could be as simple as a teacher or school district’s IT department not properly setting up Zoom software which may have allowed someone to change their name once inside the class.

“I think there needs to be more consistent mandates as far as how Zoom meetings going to operate for schools,” said Seely.

Liam’s parents say the Snoqualmie Valley School District is looking into what went wrong and how to eliminate similar issues from happening.

While the hateful comments the family found shared on social media have been removed, they worry other students could be targeted if educators and school districts don’t move fast

The district is also holding an online tech training bootcamp for parents Tuesday night that covers tips and tricks for parents and students navigating remote learning.