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Borough explains lack of participant list at Zoom meetings

 

November 19, 2020

Ceri Godinez

Haines' newly seated assembly and mayor discuss borough issues on Zoom during a meeting in November. The borough has held assembly meetings exclusively via Zoom since late July as a pandemic mitigation measure, but the switch to the digital format has come with its own set of challenges.

The transition to Zoom meetings as a COVID-19 precautionary measure has been somewhat bumpy for the Haines Borough. On top of the routine "You're still muted" and "I can't tell who's raising their hands" issues that come with the platform, this fall, the borough began receiving complaints from residents after it switched the assembly meeting format from "meeting" to "webinar."

Complaints from residents were largely focused on the loss of the ability to see other Zoom meeting attendees. While "meeting" format allows all attendees to be visible to other attendees, the webinar format has "panelists," in this case assembly members, who are visible to all meeting attendees, but everyone else is only visible to those running the Zoom webinar.

"Repeatedly, for weeks now I've asked that we be able to see the participants. I've watched the (Haines Chamber of Commerce candidate) forum. I've watched the Mosquito Lake forum. I've watched the KHNS-CVN forums, and always we could see online who is participating in a meeting, and I am dismayed that still you do not allow us to see who is participating in this meeting," Sharon Resnick said during public comment at an assembly meeting in late September.

Public criticism built to a point where the borough felt the need to explain the Zoom format change to residents.

In an email last month, tourism director Steven Auch, who has been providing technological support for the Zoom meetings, said the decision to switch to the webinar format was motivated by several of the format's features that allow meetings to run more smoothly, including a more visible location for the "raise hand" function attendees use when they wish to speak, and the ability to give assembly members "panelist" status so they can automatically share screens and control their own video and audio. The webinar format also restricts attendees' ability to control their own video and audio settings, meaning members of the public must receive moderator permission in order to speak.

"Meeting mode can allow all participants to mute/unmute and turn video on/off. This allows the possibility of 'ZoomBombing' or other unwanted feedback/input from users, especially at times when they are not allowed to participate," Auch said.

He said the loss of the ability to view other Zoom participants was an unintended consequence of the switch to webinar format. Webinar format doesn't give the option of sharing a participant list.

Auch said he contacted Zoom to suggest they add the ability to see other attendees as a feature of the webinar format.

The company wrote back, "Thanks for the feature idea. We've added this to our feature request list for our product development and engineering teams to consider for future development."

In response to the critique that the webinar format prevents participants from seeing each other, Auch noted that even in meeting mode, when the participant list is visible, it's impossible to know the full extent of who is tuned in.

"Purely showing the participant list doesn't mean you'll always know who is listening. For example, some people log in to meetings as "iPad." There can also be many members of the audience that listen in via KHNS, or stream, that we have no way of listing all participants," Auch said.

The borough has been hosting assembly meetings entirely via Zoom since July 28. Prior to that, assembly meetings had been limited to 10 in-person participants with the option for additional participants to tune in via Zoom.

 
 

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