A Zoom meeting with the Northern Orange NAACP and members of the Hillsborough community was hijacked Sunday afternoon, and interrupted with racist comments, videos and images. The meeting was abruptly ended, but not before the accounts of several people attending the Zoom meeting were taken over, and video clips were posted showing monkeys screeching, a Ku Klux Klan rally with a cross burning, among others. Profane, threatening, racist and sexually explicit messages were posted on the chat board.
The meeting was part two of the Northern Orange NAACP town hall seeking input on Law Enforcement Transformation. Attendees were there to share personal and vulnerable experiences.
Hillsborough Mayor Jenn Weaver, who was attending the virtual meeting, also had her account taken over by hackers. The mayor posted a message on her Facebook page explaining in detail the events of the meeting from the afternoon.
“I was asked by Latarndra Strong to share this with you so that you understand who is out there, lurking and waiting, ready and *excited* to attack and traumatize the black and brown members of our community,” Mayor Weaver’s post read. “And when I say ‘out there,’ remember that out there is also right here. It is incumbent upon every person who is interested in the liberation of all people, in building a community and world where this type of behavior and traumatization would be unthinkable, to join in this struggle. Each of us must find our role. Each of us must commit.”
“Zoombombing” is the act of raiding a Zoom meeting by hackers and Internet trolls, often with the sole intention of being disruptive and sharing obscene and often pornographic content and images. The practice has become prevalent as virtual meetings have grown in popularity during the pandemic.
Brian Crawford, who is on the executive board of the Northern Orange NAACP and is communications director, said about 10 minutes into the meeting someone posted a “Trump 2020” image, but the meeting proceeded. The shared screen function was shut down.
“Probably about 20 minutes into the meeting it got really annoying,” Crawford said. “The chat box was taken over with the usual f-bombs, and n-words ran, ad nauseam. Then somebody was skilled enough to take over the participant names, and started sending chats to everyone from the names of people who were legitimately in the meeting.”
Crawford said some of the messages were vulgar and demeaning. He was told sexually explicit images were also showing up. He said that even when the perpetrator was muted, the person or persons were able to override the mute.
“It really got disgusting and vile after a while, so we just had to end the call,” Crawford said.
The meeting was the second part of the Northern Orange NAACP town hall on police reform. The first event had no incidents. The meetings were promoted on Facebook, email, Instagram and the organization’s website. Crawford said the posting of the second meeting received several comments that expressed disagreement with the purpose of the town hall forum, but there were no indications of this type of interruption.
“We expect that. It’s free speech,” Crawford said. “We don’t censor anybody’s right to say anything in opposition. Part of this (town hall) was finding out where we got the most support from the community to go forward. We expected to see some comments, and even some of them negative. That’s OK.
“But what happened today was not OK,” he said. “It was pornographic. It was hate-speech. No ifs, ands or buts.”
Crawford said the entire meeting, chats and dialogue have been saved and the Hillsborough Police have been contacted to investigate the incident.
“Tomorrow we will contact Zoom to see if we can get the IP addresses of everybody who was in the meeting,” Crawford said. “Once we get the IP addresses sent to us, obviously we can track down those that are legitimate. And those that are not, we’re going to turn over to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.”
Despite the frustration and shock of the method with which the meeting was interrupted, Crawford remained optimistic and focused.
“You know you’re doing something right when some people want to shut down your message,” he said.