JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Officials in Alaska’s capital city are working on measures to prevent disruptions of online public meetings that have included verbal abuse of at least one assembly member.
The use of videoconferences allows the public to continue observing and participating city government meetings during the coronavirus pandemic, but there have been problems, KTOO-FM reported Tuesday.
City officials estimated there have been about a dozen instances of what has become known as “Zoom bombing,” or planned disruptions of meetings using the popular Zoom videoconference software.
The method has been used to disrupt public meetings throughout Alaska and elsewhere on Zoom and other conferencing platforms, often with lewd, racist or pornographic material.
The City and Borough of Juneau Assembly has updated its planned responses, but officials would not reveal details that could enable the methods to be circumvented. Officials shared only that someone’s hand is now always near the mute button.
“We’ve had a few at the assembly level, we’ve had a few at the school board level, we’ve had a few in some committee board” meetings, Juneau City Attorney Rob Palmer said.
The city does not have a local law identifying Zoom bombing as a crime, although Palmer said he is working to make that change.
Juneau Assembly member Carole Triem was targeted during a meeting in which a man made inappropriate comments about Triem’s body, along with audio of graphic sounds.
“Certainly, as a woman, that kind of thing has happened before,” Triem said. “Not in any kind of official capacity, and it was very embarrassing that it happened in this public meeting where I think probably hundreds of people were watching on Facebook.”
The city employee who was moderating was not immediately able to remove the person from the meeting and no one muted the offensive caller.
Triem said she was shocked, “but I was just kind of like, I don’t know, ‘Let’s just get on with the meeting.’”
The Juneau Police Department opened a criminal investigation, but Palmer said without a local ordinance the city cannot force videoconference companies to share identifying information.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.