FREEPORT — Approximately 300 people tuned into the Regional School Unit 5 Board of Directors meeting on Thursday for a presentation on the district’s reopening plan, but  instead watched as online hijackers took over the screen, displaying inappropriate and offensive imagery. 

At the beginning of the meeting, board members were interrupted by loud, explicit music, which was quickly turned off. 

Then, as Superintendent Becky Foley began her presentation, an unknown person started drawing pictures of male genitalia, swastikas and writing racial slurs on the screen. The presentation was quickly taken down and placed online for parents to follow along as Foley read the details aloud. 

Many towns and organizations use the online platform Zoom to host meetings amid the pandemic, and often publish the meeting identification number and password for people who wish to speak during public comment. However, that also means that anyone with the information can access the meeting.

The people responsible for these hijackings or “Zoom-bombings” can be hard to catch, and Board Chairperson Michelle Ritcheson said Friday that they could see the names changing during the meeting as fast as they could be removed. 

“It’s very unfortunate,” she said, especially given that the meeting had “probably the best turnout” the board has ever seen. 

“We have a plan in place for next week to change the format a little bit to put in some more safeguards,” she said, adding that she will probably address the changes at the start of next week’s meeting. 

“We can’t tolerate that kind of stuff during these meetings,” Ritcheson said. 

Freeport is not the only town to deal with a Zoom bombing. 

In early April, Bath’s first online city council meeting was cut short when someone started broadcasting pornographic images and profane language.

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

“I guess we have been fortunate,” Ritcheson said. “The only issue prior to this one, when we were really first figuring all this out, was that we had a community member who kept unmuting themselves. … It was very mild.”

“It’s hard because we have to keep (the meetings) as accessible as possible … but obviously we can’t have that,” she added.

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