‘Zoombombing’ may be coming to a public meeting near you; how towns must protect against online vandalism

SOMESVILLE, Jan. 15, 2020 – The change of demeanor on Lawson Wulsin’s face was undeniable and drastic. The mood suddenly went from celebratory to panic. As he prepared to introduce the MDI high school students who would present their findings on climate change to an eager audience on Zoom, a racial slur appeared on the screen.

Wulsin told the group to hold fast while he attended to the problem. It lasted only minutes but it clearly disrupted the flow.

Nonetheless the culprit was removed and the session by the A Climate To Thrive was flawless from that point on.

ACTT had just been “Zoombombed” or as Wikipedia calls it “zoom raided.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zoombombing

Several days later, Wulsin sent out this statement:

“Dear Attendee,

On January 8, at the beginning of our educational event, “The Gulf of Maine Climate Emergency,” an individual vandalized the presenter’s screen.  A single word of racist hate speech was visible to all attendees for ten seconds before we ended the screen share and removed the individual from the meeting. A few minutes earlier, when only a portion of attendees had arrived, a separate individual wrote a racist comment in the public chat.

I want to acknowledge the harm experienced by our community and validate the wide range of emotions and reactions that you may be feeling. We have reported the incident to the school district, the local police, and to Zoom and are exploring strategies for how to reduce the risk of future security breaches.

Let me be very clear: demonstrations of hate and racism are not welcome and will not be tolerated at any ACTT events.

Our work depends on trust, respect, and compassion. As we deepen our connections to each other and our planet, it is imperative that the spaces in which we gather are safe. On Friday, that safety was violated. I commend the students for the courage and strength they demonstrated by presenting a compelling program after the disruption; thank you.

I reaffirm our commitment to inclusivity and look forward to continued engagement with our community. Please reach out with any questions or concerns – I am always happy to talk.

Sincerely,

Lawson”

Zoombombing is the internet scourge of vandals who interrupt meetings by sharing pornographic images and/or racist content. Public meetings which post advance notices are most susceptible.

Thus far, public town meetings have been spared of this, although other MDI meetings have succumbed to Zoombombing, according to sources.

Even at this late stage, many of the towns’ Zoom meetings have inadequate protocol. The hosts of these meetings must understand the top two vulnerabilities.

The vandals typically do not allow themselves to be visually apparent, hiding behind a black screen, until they pounce with pornography or the like until the host detects them and kicks them off. But that could take a while, especially when the room is full like the Mount Desert planning board session this week when, at one time, more than 100 persons dialed in. The second vulnerability is when there is “screen share” and a vandal may take advantage of the annotate function to upload an image or video to share with the group, like a presenter. Hosts should plan ahead to allow only certain presenters to have that access.

Unfortunately, we live in an age when such precautions are necessary.

(psst, I plan to hawk my 1968 Mickey Mantle Topps card at the next Zoom session of the planning board.)

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