No 'Zoombombing' locally during online meetings

Rick Wagner • Apr 25, 2020 at 3:17 PM

Ever heard of “Zoombombing?”

It is a word born amid the novel coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic, when face-to-face meetings are being replaced with electronic ones. It basically means hacking into an online Zoom video conference meeting, be it among school or college class members or local government bodies.

One incident occurred at a recent Chattanooga City Council meeting, where as reported the Chattanooga Times Free Press people made racial slurs visible to the meeting participants and general public viewing the meeting. The next virtual meeting is to have public comment. During the March 31 meeting city officials made those comments viewable only to meeting participants and not the general public, and the comments ceased.

That meeting used the video conferencing app Zoom, the same one used by the Kingsport Board of Education for a called meeting March 31. Assistant Superintendent of Administration Andy True said city school officials are aware of the potential issue and are following Zoom guidance on how to halt such comments.

Unlike the Chattanooga council, which plans to do have public comments at its next meeting, the Kingsport school board and the Kingsport Board of Mayor and Aldermen in a called meeting the same night allow for and have no mechanism for public comments in virtual meetings.

“I’m not aware of anything with our school system or locally,” True said Thursday of Zoombombing.

“We’re aware of it as far as what is going on in a national scale,” True said, adding that Zoom has provide guidance on how to safely meet online and to secure the system. Eric Yuan, Zoom’s CEO, on April 2 did a blog post about measures Zoom was taking against Zoombombing, including training and tutorial webinars.

In Sullivan County, the school board used Google Hangout for its March 26 meeting, and Director of Schools David Cox said it presented no problems. The system uses Google Hangout for staff meetings, as True said the Kingsport system does. Cox said virtual classroom meeting are held in Google Classroom, part of the Google Education Suite. True said the Google video conferencing app has designated links.

“We’ve not experienced any of that here,” Cox said Thursday. “We have not used Zoom for anything.”

Like Kingsport, Cox said Sullivan County’s school system has no public comment during a virtual meeting.

“We’ve not figured out how to do that and manage all the concerns,” Cox said. The next regular county school board meeting has been postponed until Thursday, April 23. It had been set for 5 p.m., April 9, following a work session 4 p.m. that same day but was rescheduled the morning of April 6. The work session still will be 4 p.m. and the regular meeting 5 p.m. The next regular city school board meeting is set for April 14.