An unwelcome “Zoombomb” exploded during the first meeting of Cornwall’s new Housing Task Force during their virtual meeting on Monday afternoon January 25. Several participants who were not known to the host (Janell Mullen, regional planner for Northwest Hills Council of Governments and consultant to Cornwall’s Housing Task Force), refused to identify themselves. Soon the newcomers disrupted the meeting by making racist and obscene comments directed ad hominem at task force members based on what they had said in the opening few minutes of the meeting. Janell stopped admitting new “raiders” but was unable to kick them all off and so finally shut down the Zoom session entirely and started up a new meeting to which she only admitted the official participants.

This Zoombombing incident is similar to one that erupted a few months ago during an online Zoom meeting between Connecticut’s Fifth District U.S. Representative Jahana Hayes and constituents. According to First Selectman Gordon Ridgway the online trolling, name-calling, disinformation, and divisive disinformation that has infected national social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter has trickled down to Zoom meetings conducted on the local level. Luckily all the town’s Zoom meetings are recorded, so a video exists with all the evidence of the online harassment— a record that has been provided to the police and to Zoom itself. Ridgway says these incidents are not uncommon in Connecticut and believes that disruption of this sort is a kind of recreational hate; that the perpetrators were doing this as a hobby and were not targeting Cornwall and its town meetings for any specific reason.

Until this happened the town had openly posted Zoom links to meetings; from now on anyone who wants to participate in a Zoom town meeting needs either to be on an official sign-up list for specific kinds of meetings (Selectmen’s, Finance, P & Z) or to email in advance to request the Zoom link.

−Paul De Angelis