By Sophie Hills and L. Kincaid Holmes

In one of the hazards of the new remote landscape, the virtual talkback for Dance Prod today was shut down 10 minutes into the question and answer program when it was Zoom-bombed with offensive language by hackers.

“Some individuals got in that we were not anticipating and started to fill the chat and the Q&A with some pretty offensive language, and so we decided to shut it down and reschedule,” said John O’Hagan, creative arts/communication division head.

It was not threatening, said O’Hagan. “It was just deeply offensive on racial and sexual terms.”

Erin Lane, Q&A panelist and assistant professor of dance, found it difficult to stay on track, she said.

“It was a very uncomfortable situation,” said Lane. “All of the panelists are OK, shaken up and confused, but OK.”

O’Hagan decided to close the talkback when the insulting messages quickly increased, said Lane. “It was a good call to close it.”

Organizers were able to capture all the email addresses of the legitimate registrants, said O’Hagan, so a link to the rescheduled talkback will be sent privately.

The link was widely published on social media and advertised in the Alton Telegraph, and any user who entered through that registration link was able to join the talkback, said O’Hagan.

“There were lots of places that somebody could have got it,” said O’Hagan. “We’ve learned something, and now we will do it much better next time.’”

“Less than two weeks ago we were putting all this together, so it’s been a pretty steep learning curve for all of us,” said O’Hagan.

“[Dance Prod] was fantastic, and I think once we get the talkback rescheduled people will really appreciate the opportunity to chat with the choreographers.”  [See the Pilot report on the production here.]

There were 38 people registered to join the talkback, said O’Hagan, but it was difficult to determine the final number of attendants because the user running the bomb was using bots and populated multiple names over and over.

The Wild Goose talkback following the Dance Prod talkback was not interrupted, said O’Hagan.

“We let [everybody] know what had happened at Dance Prod and what our protocol was gonna be if it happened again, but we were very lucky in that it did not happen and we had a really lovely talkback session with the actors and the playwrights and several audience members. It was really terrific,” he said.

A date and time has not been determined for the rescheduled Dance Prod talkback, but it will likely be before the end of next week, said O’Hagan. 

The interruption was not due to a lack of IT support, O’Hagan said. “It was our error in how it was set up. IT couldn’t have done anything. It was us needing to learn how to use tools more effectively in terms of the setup to insure that we’re protecting the sessions.”

•Featured photo at top by Unsplash