The VICE Guide to Right Now

Some of the Most Awkward Video Call Fails of 2020

Public figures around the world have been caught showering, masturbating, and having sex in video calls.
Frankie Lantican
Singapore
October 20, 2020, 1:17pm
zoom-video-call
For illustrative purposes only. Collage: VICE / Image: Gabriel Benois, Unsplash

Yesterday, The New Yorker suspended reporter Jeffrey Toobin after he was seen masturbating on a Zoom video chat with members of the New Yorker and WNYC radio last week.

Toobin called it an “embarrassingly stupid mistake” and told Motherboard that he thought he was off-camera and not visible on Zoom.

The New Yorker is now investigating the incident. Condé Nast, which publishes the weekly magazine, has since disabled Toobin’s email under the company. Meanwhile, CNN, where Toobin is a chief legal analyst, said in a statement that he has asked for “some time off.”

The controversy has led to a lot of  head-scratching and facepalming, but it is certainly not the only embarrassing video call mishap to happen in 2020.

Virtual meetings have become the new normal, as many around the world are forced to stay indoors amid the pandemic, but some are adjusting to technology better than others. Video calls can go horribly wrong, and below are just some of the most awkward fails of the year.

Philippines

In August, a village chief from Cavite, Philippines was caught having sex with his treasurer during a Zoom call with other officials. The chief, identified as Jesus Estil, reportedly tried to mute himself on the call and thought he had turned off his camera.

The sex was in full view of his colleagues, one of whom recorded the incident. The video made the rounds on Philippine social media and sparked outrage among appalled netizens.

Local media reported that the two later resigned from their posts.

Mexico

Zoom’s green screen function allows users to change their video’s background to any photo or video. It’s a useful tool, especially for those who want to protect their privacy, but some people get creative with them too.

In September, Jorge Gavino of Mexico’s Democratic Revolution Party tweeted a video that shows Congressperson Valentina Batres Guadarrama using the green screen function to display an image of herself looking attentive as she exits from the frame.

Gavino’s tweet reads: “I was thinking you were paying a lot of attention to my speech, until I realized that your attentive look was a photograph.”

Guadarrama, however, denied the accusations and said that putting up the photograph wasn’t intentional and that she stepped away to request technical help.

Spain

In July, part-time Torrelavega town councilor Bernardo Bustillo accidentally showed himself showering during  a livestreamed council meeting. Bustillo reportedly needed to squeeze in a shower but didn’t want to miss out on the meeting.

He brought his laptop to the bathroom and thought that minimizing the meeting screen would automatically turn his camera off. Upon realizing that Bustillo was on camera, the mayor ended the meeting.

Bustillo even offered to resign following the incident.

United States

In April, reporter Will Reeve appeared on Good Morning America via Zoom to discuss pharmacies using drones to deliver prescriptions. But all viewers could pay attention to was his lack of pants.

Reeves himself tried to clarify on Twitter that he was wearing shorts but the unfortunate framing made it look like he was just in his underwear. Following the viral photos, the journalist used the opportunity to report a story on Zoom etiquette, reminding viewers to “make sure you frame your shot” and “get dressed - fully.”

Also, in the U.S., a University of Miami lecturer resigned in April after he revealed a bookmark labeled “Busty college girl fu…” while sharing his screen during a video call.

One of his students took notice and posted a video of it on TikTok, reportedly garnering 800,000 views in a matter of hours. While the original video was taken down, it was reposted all over social media.

NBC News reported that the lecturer, identified as John Peng Zhang, left the university after the student newspaper reported the incident.