BATH — Bath City Council’s first online meeting was interrupted by pornographic images and profane language originating from unknown users Wednesday evening, which brought the meeting to an abrupt end.

“I was baffled that something like that could happen in little Bath, Maine,” said Mari Eosco, council chairwoman. “You’re never immune on the internet.”

City councilors were using Zoom, an online meeting platform in which attendees log in using a meeting identification number and a password. Anyone with that information can enter the meeting. Eosco said the information to join the online meeting was available on the city’s website because all city council meetings must be open to the public.

“We tried to troubleshoot for things that could happen or go wrong, but that was not one of them,” said Eosco. “I was more concerned about how people would raise their hands so I would know someone wanted to speak.”

The meeting will resume at 6 p.m. on Monday, April 5. Eosco said the identification number and password for Monday’s meeting will only be shared with city councilors and staff members. Anyone member of the public who wishes to watch the meeting or comment on a remaining meeting agenda item must email Darci Wheeler, Bath’s city clerk, before 5 p.m. on Monday. Wheeler can be reached at [email protected]

Peter Owen, Bath’s city manager, said he wants to make sure this doesn’t happen again, rather than wasting time attempting to discover who interrupted Wednesday’s meeting.

“The safety measures we’re forced to take will close the meeting to the public, which is unfortunate, but nobody has figured out how to do it differently,” said Owen. “Now we’re taking more serious steps to prevent this from happening again.”

On March 30 the FBI issued a warning to those using Zoom and other video-teleconferencing platforms to conduct business or take classes online.

“As large numbers of people turn to video-teleconferencing (VTC) platforms to stay connected in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, reports of VTC hijacking (also called “Zoom-bombing”) are emerging nationwide,” the FBI wrote. “The FBI has received multiple reports of conferences being disrupted by pornographic and/or hate images and threatening language.”

The FBI recommends making all online meetings private to bar all unwanted attendees and advises against posting meeting information online or on social media.

Owen said the city would have to invest in expensive technology to allow city meetings to remain open to the public while prohibiting online hijackers from posting lewd content during the meetings.

Eosco said she didn’t report the incident to law enforcement because “It’s hard to know where the jurisdiction is when things happen on the internet.”

“I worry about the kids who are on Zoom all day long for their classes,” added Eosco. “We’ve had to adapt quickly and this is so new to all of us.”


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