Porn plays during government Covid-19 briefing as Zoom meeting 'hijacked'

15 April 2020 - 20:41 By Kgaugelo Masweneng
A government web conference on Thursday hosted by the department of women, youth and persons with disabilities was interrupted by disturbing pornographic images from unknown users.
A government web conference on Thursday hosted by the department of women, youth and persons with disabilities was interrupted by disturbing pornographic images from unknown users.
Image: 123RF/dolgachov

A government web conference on Thursday was interrupted by disturbing pornographic images from unknown users.

The conference - hosted by the department of women, youth and persons with disabilities - started at around 2pm and quickly had about 100 participants.

But it swiftly became a nightmare when porn played across users' screens.

Department spokesperson Shalen Gajadhar labelled the act a violation of women's rights.

"This is exactly the type of abuse women experience on a daily. The use of [porn] to abuse is unacceptable - we consider it a violent act, the type of behaviour where men use unsolicited material to violate women," he said.

Gajadhar said there was an initial rush as participants joined the virtual meeting, which came with normal glitches and housekeeping - including people being asked to turn off their microphones, and so on.

"Some people were also greeting and welcoming each other here and there - but then there started to be sounds of techno music and it was loud," he said.

"The meeting was taken over by all that and then we started seeing visuals of pornographic and nude material. We had to cut the meeting and start on another safe platform."

One of those to log in was Robyn Porteous, who said she joined the meeting to understand the government's response to how the coronavirus is currently impacting women, adding that she would continue to do so in the future.

"I logged into the webinar at 2.06pm. It had been scheduled to start at 2pm, but I was delayed for several minutes by a work matter. When I logged into the Zoom call via the meeting ID ... the first thing I saw was videos of graphic pornography," she said.

"The meeting appeared to be hosted by someone named Louis (I didn’t write down his surname unfortunately) and he was scrolling through multiple videos. I logged off and attempted to log back on, assuming I’d somehow made a mistake and joined the wrong meeting.

"At that stage, the feed had cut to his [Louis's] face and the face of another young man who were wearing face masks and had added fake Zoom backgrounds that ranged from the Russian Soviet flag to an island setting.

"They’d talk to each other about singing the national anthem and other random things, before switching back to the pornography.

"At this point, I logged off and chose to stay off until there was clarity from the department as to what was going on."

Porteous said her initial reaction was shock, followed by anger.

"Once I realised what was likely going on - this is actually not the first time I’ve logged into a webinar focused on important women-centric matters that was then hijacked by men playing pornography on the platform - I was angry," she said.

"Living in the world we do, one almost comes to expect that the gravely serious issues that impact women on a daily and disproportionate basis are going to somehow be bulldozed by people who refuse to acknowledge the validity of the many issues to which we’re trying to bring awareness.

"I was simultaneously disillusioned and disappointed by the long silence with which my and others’ inquiries were met by the department. It read as passivity and disinterest in the face of something we were seriously inquiring about."

She added that the department messaged her on Twitter with a link to a new platform for the meeting, but by then she had already missed most of it.


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