Fountain Hill Borough Council was forced to abruptly end its virtual meeting Wednesday night after it came under attack from a group of “Zoombombers” who derailed it by sharing inappropriate content in it.
Like many other municipalities, the borough has been hosting its council meetings on the popular video chat platform Zoom since the COVID-19 pandemic made holding in-person meetings impossible beginning in late March. So far the meetings have been productive and accessible to the public.
Roughly thirty minutes into Wednesday’s Zoom meeting, the borough experienced an unfortunate and inappropriate downside to using the platform.
Zoombombing is when someone joins a public Zoom conference call to purposely make inappropriate content visible to other attendees. In the case of Wednesday’s incident, which was live-streamed on Council President Leo Atkinson’s Facebook page, the inappropriate content was made visible to anyone who tuned in to the live stream.
The Zoombombers, of whom there appeared to be a handful, sabotaged the call with offensive profile pictures, vulgar language and loud, distracting music. A few moments after the meeting was interrupted, one of the borough council members announced that the call would be adjourning immediately.
Fountain Hill Borough Council is certainly not the first group to fall victim to a Zoombombing. In March, the popular fast food Mexican restaurant Chipotle was forced to end a public Zoom call it hosted with the musician Lauv after it came under attack from a Zoombomber.
The public hijacking of Zoom calls has become such a big issue that the FBI put out a press release toward the end of March warning of the attacks.
One of the suggestions in the FBI news release is for Zoom moderators to set screen sharing options to “host only.”
Borough council member Jamie Johnson immediately posted an apology video about the Zoombombing on her council Facebook page.
“I apologize on behalf of borough council, on behalf of the mayor,” Johnson said in the video. “Someone decided to hijack our meeting and start posting craziness.”
Johnson also expressed regret over the fact that one of the agenda items was a discussion about reopening the Fountain Hill playground, which is something many borough residents have been awaiting. The incident occurred before council could discuss that.
“Unfortunately the park has to remain closed for now,” Johnson said.
Atkinson posted his own apology on his council Facebook page shortly after the meeting ended.
“I would like to personally apologize for the abrupt end to tonight’s meeting and vulgar content that caused that end to be necessary,” Atkinson’s post read. “Our Zoom call was ‘bombed,’ meaning a large number of degenerates joined the call and interrupted our work with comments and content that was inappropriate, to put it mildly.”
Atkinson said he has directed Borough Manager Tony Branco to undertake a comprehensive review along with the borough’s IT contractor of the most secure platforms and procedures for digital meetings.
The borough is also looking into outdoor spaces which could be used for public meetings which would provide adequate space for social distancing.
Atkinson said the Fountain Hill Police Department is investigating the incident, and noted the borough has filed a report about it with the FBI.
He said an announcement is forthcoming regarding when and how the next borough council meeting will be held.
Shortly before the incident occurred, borough council was discussing plans to potentially resurrect the borough’s Facebook page. The implementation of a Fountain Hill Facebook page will continue to be discussed at the next borough council meeting.