and entering

Zoom's 'End Meeting' Dialogue Box is a Microcosm of the Conflict between Federalism and State Autonomy

End...leave...these are all words. But what do they mean?

by James Madison


The past few weeks, our nation has erupted with protests against the government’s measures against COVID-19. Americans have stood outside local and federal government buildings with aggressive signs and chants expressing their anger with the state lockdowns, arguing that the public health measures are a gross violation of citizens’ liberties. But even in our own homes, a war also rages on between federalism and state autonomy. The war I speak of is, of course, the dialogue box that appears when a host elects to leave a Zoom call. 

At first glance, the options seem innocuous, barely worth a second thought: “Leave Meeting” or “End Meeting for All.” But that is just what they want you to think. In reality, these two options represent the ultimate divide between federalism and state autonomy. If the host elects to “End Meeting for All,” she has violated the participants’ right to choose whether or not they are ready to leave the meeting. The host may think she is acting out of the participants’ best interests, as she believes that once she leaves, the participants, whose only connection to each other are through her, will experience moments of exponential awkwardness and embarrassment as they, too, hastily search for the “Leave Meeting” button. This is what the host believes. But what if she is wrong? What if the participants have other matters to discuss? Perhaps they wish to take her departure as an opportunity to develop an acquaintanceship that extends beyond their connection to the host. But because of the host’s unilateral decision, these desires are extinguished.

One may also make an argument in support of the “Leave Meeting” option, which allows the participants to remain on the call, while transferring the position of “Host” to a random attendee. It is obvious that this procedure is analogous to the federal government yielding more executive power to a state government that the state citizens must then follow. By choosing to leave the meeting instead of ending it, the original host acknowledges that the participants are all autonomous agents capable of making rational decisions, and they should thus have the liberty to make such decisions. This path may result in all of the participants recognizing that the meeting has run its natural course and promptly exiting, or it may result in painfully awkward silences and sensitive background conversations being overhead. If the latter scenario occurs, one may argue that these consequences could have been avoided if the Host had simply elected to “End Meeting for All.” While that may be true for meeting 456-731-0901, what about all future Zoom meetings? Should those future participants also be deprived of their First Amendment right to freedom of choice? These are the difficult questions we must contend with, as our Founding Fathers did when establishing this great nation.

In summation, although mainstream media may shine a spotlight on recent public demonstrations against paternalistic, overreaching, centralized government, do not let that distract you from the fact that there is a similar battle happening in your very homes, in the lieus we once considered safe. The conclusion of every virtual lecture, trivia night or Zumba class has unforeseeable yet profound repercussions that will shape the very future of the American society. I urge you, on behalf of our ancestors and their ancestors, to consider carefully the next time you click “Leave Meeting.”

© 2020