Wed | Jan 19, 2022

Editorial | Beware of video shame

Published:Saturday | April 17, 2021 | 12:11 AM

From church services to court appearances, cloud-based platforms like Zoom have been facilitating video-conferencing, group chats and webinars, as more people adapt to the changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Against the background of lockdowns, quarantines, and travel restrictions, it has become necessary to build a new, virtual world. This explains the explosion in demand for web, audio and video-conferencing tools in an attempt to keep communication alive.

Data indicate that, between December 2019 and March 2020, Zoom users increased from 10 million to 200 million. There are, of course, other platforms with similar features and functionalities, such as Microsoft Teams, Facetime, HouseParty and Skype which are replacing in-person interactions, whether for business or social meetings.

One of the biggest adjustments has been made in the delivery of education, as teachers have had to find ways of building classrooms in the homes of their students, many of which do not have the requisite tools for virtual learning. Businesses, too, have had to accommodate employees working from home in efforts to mitigate the worst economic fallout of the virus.

The fact is that some users of these tools may not be tech-savvy and they could face potential embarrassment, and more seriously, a dent to their professional image for inappropriate dress, disregard for hygiene or inappropriate behaviour in this new meeting space.

As recent as this week, we learnt of another embarrassing moment on Zoom. This time, a member of the Canadian Parliament appeared stark naked during a sitting of the House of Commons. While apologising for his action, the MP explained that he was changing into his work clothes after a jog and had accidentally pushed the wrong button.

Late last year, we witnessed the unravelling of CNN Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin, who was caught in a sexual act on a Zoom call with colleagues, and there was also the well-publicised incident of a government official of the Philippines having sex with his secretary during a regular council meeting. There have been other wrenching incidents such as persons recording bathroom trips or teachers berating students, and another sex scandal in Brazil.


This latest incident in Canada has reignited the debate about what is appropriate on a Zoom call. How does one show up looking their best? It also raises questions about whether it is necessary for guidelines to be established for navigating remote work meetings, and who should create these rules.

We feel strongly that now is the time to establish remote-work guidelines because, with all the virulent variants of COVID-19 lurking, we may be in this pandemic for a long time and the Zoom workplace may become more permanent than imagined a year ago. Similar to conference-call etiquette, there seems to be a need for Zoom etiquette.

One great rule of thumb to avoid the pitfalls of Zoom calls is to assume your webcam and microphones are always on. And, even more important in this virtual world, assume your neighbours’ webcam and microphones are always on. One unmuted microphone at an inappropriate moment could spell disaster.

As we have seen in recent times, heinous acts committed against people or animals in public are quickly captured and transmitted on social media in mere seconds of their occurrence. All it requires is the ability to point and click with a cellphone.

The concept of video shame has entered the lexicon and these recordings can do extreme damage to one’s reputation. But, when all is said and done, we believe that the narrative must eventually shift to individual responsibility.

You will live to Zoom another day, if you are respectful and conduct yourself with decorum.