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November 14, 2022

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Quiet in the classroom! Online teachers find it harder to quell unruly disruptions

A teacher surnamed Liu in Henan Province died at home on October 28, soon after giving an online class to students. Cause of death was listed as a stroke.

Her daughter suspects the real cause. She gathered recorded video showing that a gang of ruffians had hacked into her mother’s last class, talking loudly, playing music and hurling abuse.

A statement from local authorities issued on November 2 said the allegations of an online disruption were being investigated but ruled out any criminal offense.

Does criminality need to be redefined in the cyber age?

The teacher’s death raised public awareness of a type of cyber bullying known in Chinese as wangke baopo, or literally “online class bombardment.”

This is relatively new to education. In traditional brick-and-mortar school, strict discipline makes such disruptions less likely, and there are often security guards to back that up.

But the online realm is different. By hacking or with the collusion of a misguided student, it’s relatively easy for unruly gatecrashers to enter an online classroom.

In the Henan Province case, the teacher was giving a digital history class to first-year senior high school students via DingTalk, a platform developed by Alibaba, when the disruption occurred. Liu’s husband said it was not the first time such an intrusion had happened.

In a statement, DingTalk said it is trying to gather more information about the case and is cooperating with local investigation. The platform, originally conceived as a business conference service, branched out to online education during COVID-19 lockdowns.

A young teacher surnamed Xu in Shandong Province explained how an online class on DingTalk can go awry.

If there are too many students, she said, a teacher may switch from “class” to “conference” mode.

“With class mode, you can press the mute button for all attendees and easily kick out troublemakers,” Xu said. “That’s more difficult in conference mode.”

Some older teachers, long inured to classroom discipline they have taken for granted, may be caught off guard and not know how to cope with sudden pandemonium outbreaks, Xu said. Hackers may have any number of motivations. They could be acting for students bearing a grudge against a teacher or fellow classmates. Or disrupting a class may just be a malicious lark for them.

One of the more infamous online gatecrashers is a netizen who goes by the screen name “Menglei,” or Lachrymose Dreamer.

Techies speculate that his online name may be an attempt to impersonate a noted e-sports player. In early September, that player issued an appeal pleading for an end to abusive interruptions of online classes.

Students and teachers in Shanghai have reported similar disruptions.

According to Shanghai News Radio, Xiao Xia, a college student, was attending an online class in September when she heard someone shouting, “Teacher, I want to go to the restroom!”

Police sirens ensued, and the screen became a mishmash of chaotic activities.

“A young man let off a torrent of very insulting abuse,” Xiao Xia recalled. “Since our teacher failed to kick these intruders out with one stroke, the only option left was to end the class prematurely.”

Wang Xiaofei, who teaches a junior middle school in Shanghai, experienced two invasions during a meticulously prepared online class for 1,000 students. Afterward, according to Shanghai News Radio, she felt guilty.

“Why did this happen only in my class?” she asked herself, according to the report.

The torment led her to question whether she was really fit for her job.

According to Shanghai-based Chinese digital media outlet The Paper, a student in Liaoning Province reported in September that an online nursing course was invaded by hackers swearing. Instructional material was replaced on screen by videogames and pornographic images.

The more the shock, the greater the satisfaction for the perpetrators, it appears.

Shanghai News Radio said 16 culprits who invaded a Chinese class for junior middle school students reveling in their exploits later in a chat room. One said, “Some teachers confronted by this might act decisively to mute the mikes, but not this one. She was stunned and left on the verge of tears.”

In a recent central government circular aimed at tackling cyber bullying, there are specific provisions defining the responsibility of online platforms to safeguard the legitimate rights of netizens.

Baidu, a major Chinese search engine, recently issued a notice stating that “recent surveillance has suggested that some users have posted notices about recruiting others into secret groups specializing in organized invasions of online classes on Tencent Meeting or DingTalk.

The same notice revealed that 410 illegal posts were eliminated and 58 accounts were dealt with for serious violations. The company also provides a channel for users to report irregularities.

In September, Tencent Meeting initiated a function that offers the click of a button for discussion moderators to use to stop participants’ right to speak, share images or leave comments.

In an interview with The Paper, Liu Xingliang, an expert from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, said schools should train teachers on how to remove attendees, blunt microphones or suspend an online class meeting.

Some legal experts have suggested these online invasions should be classed as criminal offenses.




 

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