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After a pornographic Zoom bombing rattles a Berkshire Hills school meeting, Stockbridge Police say they're investigating. And they've got some leads

Panel to switch to more restrictive Zoom format

Berkshire Hills meeting hijacked by Zoom bomber

Members of the Berkshire Hills Regional School District School Committee sit in discussion after Zoom bombers invaded the meeting with pornography.

STOCKBRIDGE — Police investigating a Zoom bombing Thursday in which three people invaded a Berkshire Hills Regional School District School Committee meeting with visual pornography say they have made some progress with their probe.

“It is an active investigation in which some leads have been developed,” Stockbridge Police Chief Darrell Fennelly wrote in an email, saying that was the only information he could provide at present. He said that, if needed, police would work directly with state police detectives attached to the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office.

Zoom official contacts West Stockbridge Police after hacker interrupts meeting with threats, racial slurs

During Thursday’s incident, the people who joined the videoconference also targeted one of the School Committee’s female members, saying she was “hot.”

After an apology about the incident from Superintendent Peter Dillon, the committee quickly moved on to its next topic. The panel now likely will switch its Zoom meetings to the “webinar” format, which restricts screen sharing and gives the host more control.

In this case, Community Television for the Southern Berkshires hosted and recorded the videoconference, and its executive director filed the police report. Also, the station removed a recording of the meeting from its website.

It was during a discussion about renovating or rebuilding Monument Mountain Regional High School that a new window popped onto the videoconference screen and one or two voices narrated while a naked man performed various antics, then appeared to masturbate.

School Committee Chairman Stephen Bannon said he had seen three people log on before they hijacked the meeting. He later said that CTSB-TV didn’t have Zoom’s webinar format available, but that he and Dillon agree that they will inquire with the station about how to switch. Bannon said they want to guard future meetings, particularly Dec. 8, when the panel wants the public to weigh in on a proposed vaccination mandate for students that would begin Jan 3.

“How can we be more vigilant?” Bannon said of the Zoom format.

Guarding the democratic process

The webinar format might be more protective, but it has come under attack for being less transparent, since it doesn’t allow meeting participants to see who else might be attending the meeting, or allow group chats.

While more people might now participate in public meetings, given the convenience of logging on at home, the quality of resident engagement has taken a hit, says one Great Barrington resident who has been trying for more than a year to get the Select Board to shift from the webinar format.

“It’s important for residents to know who else is interested enough about any issue to show up,” Nan Wile wrote in an email to town officials, including Bannon, who also is chairman of the Great Barrington Select Board. “This sort of common knowledge builds community and supports the democratic process.”

Zoom bombers have jolted numerous meetings with pornography or racism nationwide, and at least a handful of South County municipal meetings have not escaped. The DA’s office and West Stockbridge Police investigated a racist Zoom incident during a West Stockbridge meeting in September. The office did not immediately respond to questions about the status of that investigation.

Zoom bombers rarely are caught, and the platform is vulnerable, despite an $85 million settlement after a class-action lawsuit last year accused the company of enabling Zoom bombing by sharing the data of its users. A company spokesperson previously said that updated features and settings can boost security. The company also has a blog with tips on how to protect a meeting, he said.

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or 413-329-6871.

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