Public meeting gets 'Zoom bombed'


June 24, 2021

The Haines Borough public safety commission was targeted by bad actors last week when random voices disrupted the meeting shouting racist epithets and slurs.

The disruption of Zoom meetings is known as “Zoom bombing” and has become a trend since the pandemic forced virtual meetings.

“Nationally it’s happening all over,” borough information technology specialist Austin Neal said. “The general idea is just to cause problems, the same reason someone might randomly slash someone’s tires. Sometimes people do it deliberately to disrupt a meeting.”

In many instances, people post pornography, hate speech and other lewd content. The problem became so pronounced in Juneau that its assembly considered an ordinance that would criminalize the activity.

Neal said it can be difficult to find out the identity of a Zoom bomber. At last week’s public safety meeting, deputy borough clerk Helen Alten muted the attendee named Jess but the individual unmuted and continued shouting. After being removed from the meeting, they logged back in with another name and continued to disrupt the meeting.

Neal said he suspects the disruptor was a random actor rather than an individual intent on disrupting the public safety commission meeting. The meeting was set to be canceled because it lacked quorum and the Zoom bomber logged in as commissioners were waiting to see if anyone else on the commission would attend.

“More than likely it will be a random, fake email address from a free provider that can’t be traced,” Neal said. “Technically, most of the time what they do is not against the law so it’s very hard to do anything about it.”

Police chief Heath Scott was in the meeting when it was disrupted. He told Alten to disconnect and repost a new Zoom link if it happened again.

“I’ve had colleagues that have had that happen in meetings and we need to shut that down immediately,” Scott said. “I would rather postpone valuable information than hear nonsense like that.”

Austin said the borough is considering tightening up security measures in Zoom meetings by asking attendees to use their full names before joining, enabling a waiting room where people will be let in by an administrator and removing the ability of attendees to mute and unmute themselves similar to how assembly meetings are currently run on Zoom.


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