The Kennebunk Select Board held a troll-free meeting using Zoom technology Tuesday, a welcome reversal from last week, when intruders bombarded a special meeting with vulgar and prejudiced words and images.
(TNS) — The Kennebunk Select Board in Maine held a troll-free meeting using Zoom technology Tuesday, a welcome reversal from last week, when intruders bombarded a special meeting with vulgar and prejudiced words and images.
Board Chair Blake Baldwin apologized to the community.
"I apologize for the obscene and hateful language and images that were inadvertently part of last Wednesday's meeting," Baldwin said. "That is certainly not something we condone. It's our responsibility as a select board in town to make sure that the meetings are conducted in an appropriate fashion. Clearly, we didn't get there on the meeting last Wednesday, and I apologize for that."
As various stay-at-home orders have been enacted across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic, the online meeting platform Zoom has become popular for governments, businesses and other organizations to hold virtual meetings. Some have experienced disruptions like those that affected the Kennebunk Select Board last week.
Baldwin said someone told him that he and his fellow selectpersons had looked "horrified" as one objectionable image after another appeared on screen throughout the meeting, including an image with nudity and a photo of Adolf Hitler.
Baldwin said town officials gave Zoom a closer look following last week's meeting and determined how to use the platform better.
"We have gone to a webinar format, which we believe will secure the meeting in a more robust way," Baldwin said.
Town staff have held more than a dozen Zoom meetings without difficulty, Baldwin noted.
"Those were private meetings and, apparently, when we went to the public format, we didn't get one of the security buttons checked off right," Baldwin said.
Baldwin had a message for those who try to interrupt meetings in the future with offensive content.
"I will say this: the FBI has suggested, and we will follow the suggestion, that any hateful language or imagery will be reported to the FBI as a hate crime, or a possible hate crime," Baldwin said.
The Kennebunk Select Board is not alone. Government proceedings in other states, online classes in Massachusetts and even an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in New York have all been among those disrupted by "malicious actors," as Baldwin described such individuals on Tuesday.
In New Hampshire, a troll displayed sexually explicit images and yelled hateful language during a select board meeting in Exeter on Monday.
Exeter Police Chief Stephan Poulin, who participated in that Zoom meeting, said police determined that one juvenile male appeared to be behind the intrusions in that town. Police have traced an IP address to Seattle, Washington, and are continuing efforts to pinpoint the juvenile's physical home address, according to Poulin. The individual could face several charges, he added.
"Anyone who hacks into a teleconference meeting can be charged at the state and federal level," Poulin said.
A spokesperson for Zoom said in an email that the company condemns the harassment that has happened on its platform and that the company has been making changes in response to user complaints.
Zoom changed the default settings for K-12 classrooms, for instance, so teachers are the only ones who can share content with the class, and also enabled passwords and virtual waiting rooms by default. Last week, the company began showing a new "Security" toolbar option, so hosts can quickly access security features during meetings.
Locally, other communities have fared well so far with the technology.
In Wells, town officials have been using Zoom's webinar option for their meetings. Meetings also have been broadcast on channel 1301 on cable television and livestreamed online via Facebook and Town Hall Streams.
Town Manager Jonathan Carter said the town has had success with its virtual meetings so far.
"Our experience has been good because we have a dedicated, experienced moderator operating the Zoom broadcast," Carter said.
Carter added that the town's social media consultant reviews public questions before they are asked during the virtual meeting.
Kennebunkport Town Manager Laurie Smith said she works with audio-visual staffers David Powell and Michael Davis on learning and using best practices for Zoom meetings from other communities.
"Security requires us putting many safeguards in place, which can be challenging for allowing public participation," Smith said.
To accommodate those who are challenged by technology, Smith said she has encouraged residents to submit written questions and comments to the town hall ahead of Zoom meetings. The submissions are addressed and read into the record during selectmen and other meetings.
"All in all, I think we have been balancing security with public process," Smith said.
As for trolls intruding on the town's meetings?
"Knock on wood, we have been okay so far," Smith said.
©2020 Portsmouth Herald, N.H. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.