DENTON — An attempt to host the Town of Denton’s monthly meeting over the online platform Zoom went terribly awry when a hacker breached the online forum. The meeting, which started at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 2 was open to town residents who were given a meeting code to allow them to participate by watching online. Town officials were allowed to speak, but all other participants were set to mute.
A few minutes into the meeting, sites containing pornographic material popped up on the meeting site. George Bacorn, Public Information Officer for Denton Police Department was moderating the meeting and operating the controls and promptly shut down the adult sites.
Bacorn was trying to kick the first individual off, said Mayor Abigail McNinch when multiple others joined. Some taunting McNinch and others screaming and making derogatory remarks and racial slurs to council members. At one point, Don’t Stop Believing by Journey was heard playing over the meeting.
The meeting was shutdown completely less than 30 minutes in — of the hackers said McNinch, “To do that right while we were talking about veterans — there are no words.”
The town is required by law to have a public meeting, said McNinch in an interview following the meeting, and the town is working with Zoom now to to identify who came into the meeting and what can be done to keep this from happening again.
The mayor is working with council members Keith Johnson, Lester Branson, Doncella Wilson and Dallas Lister to determine when and how to reschedule the meeting. They want to control who speaks and when, and what can be broadcast and by whom — before venturing into an online meeting again.
The access code to sign into the meeting was shared on the town’s Facebook page, but there is no information as of now to identify the individuals who disrupted the meeting, although they were described as sounding like juveniles, possibly younger teenagers.
On Friday morning, McNinch addressed a letter to the town stating, “We proceeded with care to ensure we held an open meeting that was welcoming and provided full transparency. The meeting was unfortunately interrupted in what can only be characterized as an incomprehensible insult to humanity. We chose to learn, move forward and become stronger despite this experience.”
McNinch further shared appreciation for the town’s staff who “has been tirelessly working to ensure that our residents experience no disruption in service.”
“Our public works department is keeping our town clean, our infrastructure intact, and our water and sewer systems in top working order. Our planning and codes department continues to assist businesses and projects move forward. Our police department is in the community every day ensuring needs are met and people are safe. Our finance department keeps all the wheels moving,” said McNinch.
“There are many uncertainties for us all,” she said, “One thing I am sure about is that our community is resilient and our special sense of community will prevail. I look forward to the return of our vibrancy where people are shaking hands, giving hugs and gratefully meeting in person as it is meant to be.”
On a final note McNinch encouraged the people of Denton to, “Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay home.”
Anyone who has information in helping identify the individuals should contact Denton Police Department or Denton Town Council.
Groups around the country utilizing Zoom have been reporting similar issues with hackers, often juveniles, taking over meetings.