One of the speakers at an Architecture Foundation lecture disrupted by racist shouting has urged the profession to consider the risk to minority groups when organising online events
Akil Scafe-Smith, head of design at inter-disciplinary design studio Resolve Collective, told the AJ safeguards were critical to protect against a wide spectrum of abuse.
Scafe-Smith was talking through the Zoom video conferencing app in April as part of the Architecture Foundation’s 100 Day Studio series when hackers interfered and the event had to be stopped before later being rescheduled.
The incident – and other similar occurrences – has thrown a spotlight on the safety of online events.
‘We have forgotten how unsafe the digital sphere can be,’ said Scafe-Smith. ‘It is an inequitable environment; there are people there trolling in their natural environment. We just had to wait and be called racist names until the call was shut down.
‘Whether or not these [hackers] subscribe to a racist lifestyle, they use the tool of a minority grouping to be derogative and to disrupt.
’It needs to be taken into account. If you are not thinking to implement safeguards you need to think about whether some speakers are from minority groups, and is there a possibility they will be affected disproportionately if there is a hack. I would make security a prerequisite of speaking online again.’
Scafe-Smith said the incident he was subjected to escalated very quickly.
‘We were introducing our project for about six minutes before a number of people came on the call shouting racist abuse,’ he told the AJ.
‘When the first person came on, it was quite surreal, but by the end there were four or five people. Some of their screens were playing videos, for others their faces were blurred, and the voices were not very distinct so it was hard to discern where they were from or their age. My initial reaction was frustration.’
Scafe-Smith said online communications were easier to attack than talks in bricks-and-mortar auditoriums.
He said the Architecture Foundation had acted swiftly to tighten up its own security, and despite initial reservations, Resolve gave its lecture without interruption a few days after the incident.
‘The industry has cottoned on quite quickly to the kind of safeguards that are necessary,’ said Scafe-Smith. ‘The safeguards can be as easy as making invited guests co-hosts and preventing unmuting of microphones. Although I do worry we could be due a second wave if people are hell-bent on disrupting.’
Architecture Foundation director Ellis Woodman apologised to those affected by the incidents during his organisation’s events and said the foundation had added extra security measures.
The AJ, in partnership with the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust, has launched a new survey to gather up-to-date evidence on race diversity within architecture.
The move comes two years after the AJ’s first investigation of the issues, the results of which painted a picture of a profession struggling with unacknowledged racism whereby architects from Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds felt the colour of their skin hindered their career.
Respondents to the 2018 questionnaire – the first of its kind in architecture – gave a unique insight into the ongoing challenges faced by many non-white architects (see Race Diversity Survey: is architecture in denial?).
Click here to take the 2020 survey