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Hamden, Conn., Legislative Council Meeting Zoombombed

A meeting of the town’s legislative council earlier this week was forced offline after so-called zoombombers began making racist and homophobic remarks, some of them directed at council members.

by Clare Dignan, New Haven Register / April 22, 2020

(TNS) — "Zoombombers” invaded Monday’s Legislative Council meeting, forcing the body to cancel it.

As council members were logging into the meeting, troubleshooting technical difficulties, anonymous users began flooding the chat with racist, misogynistic, homophobic and anti-Semitic comments.

Zoombombing refers to someone disrupting a meeting or online class using the Zoom webinar platform and sharing lanuage or images that are vulgar, violent, pornographic, racist or otherwise offensive.

Some of the comments were generally racist and homophobic, but some of the comments were pointed at council members.

Council President Michael McGarry canceled the meeting before it officially convened.

Council members Brad Macdowall, D-At Large, and Justin Farmer, D-5, posted a joint statement on their Facebook pages after the meeting, addressing the Zoombombing.

“In addition to denouncing such hateful rhetoric, the Council must take responsibility and be more prepared,” they said. “This was avoidable, as the vulnerability was caused by a last-minute change to the meeting. After the attacks on Hamden’s IT systems over the last year and a half and suffering the consequences of being unprepared, we ought to do better.”

The Town Hall was hit by a malware attack in October, making the computer system inaccessible for at least a week. A cyberattack then hit Hamden Public Schools, forcing the district to cut off email and Internet access for weeks.

“We have urged leadership to consult IT professionals including our internal IT Department and our Technology Commission on these matters in the future,” Macdowall and Farmer said in their statement. “It is imperative that we are protecting our infrastructure from these kinds of malicious attacks.”

“We have to realize thes are unprecendented tiems and we’re dealing with things we haven’t before,” McGarry said. “We’re dealing with things as they come the best we can.”

The council business that was on the agenda Monday was going to be taken up during the first public hearing on the mayor’s proposed budget initially set for Tuesday evening. Late Tuesday evening both meetings were rescheduled for Thursday at 7 p.m.

Public input on the budget will be taken by email only sent to Residents must submit comments via email a half hour prior to the meeting and read into the record, according to an announcement Tuesday.

All public comments will be posted on the town website.

“According to our IT department, who consulted Zoom, this is the best option to avoid the sort of abhorrent hate speech we were subjected to last night,” McGarry said in an email to the Legislative Council and town’s legal counsel Tuesday shortly after 6 p.m. “I am truly sorry that this occurred, and am saddened that, with all the challenges we are faced with at this time, some people sought to use our meeting as a platform for obscene and hateful speech.”

Wednesday’s public hearing on the Board of Education budget is scheduled to go forward, with public comment admissible only through the special email, the announcement said.

“This is far from a perfect solution, but seems to be the best way to still get public input, without subjecting the meeting to hate speech,” McGarry said in the email.

McGarry said they don’t know whether the commenters were bots or live users.

In planning for the meeting, which was set up as a webinar to give more control to the meeting host, McGarry said they thought that format would give them enough control to keep such attacks from happening, but it didn’t so now they’re only accepting comments through email.

“That was the only way to be certain,” he said.

Also Monday, a planned public information caucus before the New Haven Board of Alders was hit when a person on the virtual meeting played material depicting child sexual abuse for several seconds before being removed.

Earlier this month, a Madison juvenile was arrested and charged with creating a disruption during a New York virtual classroom with obscene gestures and language.

In early April, the Cromwell Board of Finance’s budget public hearing/workshop was derailed when a user on the Zoom meeting drowned-out the board members by shouting an obscenity, and the Middletown Board of Education meeting was similarly hacked the day prior.

©2020 the New Haven Register (New Haven, Conn.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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