Monday afternoon’s Kanawha County Public Library board Zoom videoconference meeting was disrupted by child pornography and the n-word appearing onscreen.
“We don’t know who it was or how it got onto it,” board Vice President Ben Thomas said. “We suspect they accessed it on the website, where it’s publicly available.”
The board halted in-person meetings amid the coronavirus shutdown. It has been posting links to participate in its online video meetings on its meeting agendas, which are publicly available as required by law.
“What I can say is the FBI has been notified and I think they’re pursuing an inquiry,” Thomas said. “We’re going to take whatever steps we can take as an organization to ensure those meetings aren’t open to attack like that in the future.”
Erika Connelly, who started as the library system’s new director about two weeks ago, said she believes the attack was from someone who datamines information across the internet to find meeting login information.
Connelly said she believes the meeting’s moderator knew how to shut off the video, but was in shock like the meeting participants.
“This was such an offense I think most of us just froze, and couldn’t believe, one, what we were seeing and, two, that this was happening to us,” she said.
She said the system will search for platforms other than Zoom to host the next public meeting, but if it can’t find an alternative in time, it will probably try to screen participants before providing them the meeting access information.
She said there will also be more staff training on using Zoom.
The 4 p.m. meeting seemed routine, or what passes for routine in the middle of a global pandemic.
About 26 people had logged onto the videoconference service Zoom to discuss ongoing efforts to move the contents of the main library in Charleston to the Charleston Town Center mall.
After about 45 minutes, the board’s building committee had finished its report.
The board had voted to engage Terracon to serve as quality control assurance provider, a job that would oversee some of the finer details of the upcoming major renovation and expansion of the Charleston library.
The board had talked some about the work on the temporary administrative offices being installed inside the largely hibernated mall, where the Charleston library is temporarily moving during the renovation.
The meeting’s attention had just turned to discussion of personnel policy, the Family Medical Leave Act and COVID-19 when then pornographic clips and the racial slur interrupted the meeting.
Board members, whose microphones were still unmuted, groaned and gasped.
No one in the meeting seemed able to make video stop or immediately determine where they were coming from.
For almost a minute, the board attempted to continue the meeting. It directed the participants to turn off their cameras, to no effect.
Finally, the meeting was recessed.
Thomas said the board then reconvened for 20-30 minutes, excluding the media and the public, and approved a personnel policy that was being discussed when the pornography appeared and discussed, but did not act on, an issue regarding tax credits.
State open meetings laws give the public the right to see public officials, such as library board and Board of Education members, discuss what actions to take and vote to take those actions.
Thomas said the board continued on with the meeting despite excluding the media and public because “I think the feeling was that the matter was urgent and needed to be addressed given that we are continuing to be in this pandemic situation.”
This is not the first time Zoom meetings have been corrupted.
The digital meeting platform has been a target for hackers in a kind of cyberattack called “Zoombombing.”
With the increased use of Zoom and similar meeting services because of social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, reports of online trespassing are up.
These incursions into digital space have ranged from the merely mischievous and disruptive to the outright disturbing and traumatizing.
According to the Washington Post, a virtual graduation ceremony through Zoom at Oklahoma State University was hacked Saturday. Saboteurs displayed racist and anti-Semitic messages.
Before that, a school board meeting in Ohio was hacked and child pornography appeared on the screen for several seconds.