Children’s Gathering Hacked (Updated)

Zoom-bomber spews racist language

The Desmond-Fish Public Library in Garrison said it was a victim of a racist “Zoom-bombing” during a virtual event for children on Saturday (Jan. 2).

An interloper gained access to the video-conference and immediately changed his or her screen name to match existing participants to avoid detection, said library Director Jen McCreery. After an indecipherable rant, the user was identified and removed but managed to return to interrupt the event with racist, sexist and lewd language, she said. The user was again identified and removed but returned to post in the written chat.

The gathering was the culmination of a “bake-off” contest for children and teenagers ages 4 to 14. It was co-hosted by Justice McCray, a librarian who has been outspoken in the Black Lives Matter movement, but McCreery said it was unclear if McCray was a target of the abuse.

“The incident was handled as quickly as possible in the moment, but, sadly, the Zoom participants were exposed to this hateful and illegal behavior,” McCreery said in a statement issued on Jan. 3, noting the library had notified Zoom and county and federal authorities of the unauthorized access.

“The library staff and our board of trustees are horrified that a program created as a positive and joyful celebration of our community was derailed by one hateful individual,” she wrote. “We are especially sorry that this attack was witnessed by children. No family should have to encounter such hate speech.”

The Desmond-Fish Public Library (File photo)

McCreery said she hoped some of the children were too young to understand what happened but that she was upset others were old enough to read the chat messages.

“The security of our online programming is taken very seriously,” McCreery said. “Library staff and board trustees are researching further security measures to prevent this kind of incident from ever happening again.”

To counter video-conference hijackers, Zoom in April changed its default settings to require meetings to either have “waiting rooms” or passwords. McCreery said the library had a waiting room in place but that the person slipped through by impersonating recognized users. In addition, because of a technical difficulty, the meeting had been moved at the last minute from Crowdcast, which she said the library prefers because it offers more control over audience participation.

Zoom-bombing has been a higher-profile problem since video-conferencing became widespread in March following the COVID-19 shutdown. In August, for example, school officials in Rochester and on Long Island cut short parent sessions and apologized after rogue users posted lewd and racist language and drawings.

At the Desmond-Fish, McCreery said the library’s Racial Equity and Social Justice Committee is evaluating how to provide “a countervailing force” in response to the incident. She said local organizations have contacted her about organizing library programs to address racism.

In a letter addressed to the community, Haldane Superintendent Philip Benante asked parents and others to “join me in reflecting on how this incident impacted the families who were in attendance, and to consider using it as an opportunity to reinforce to our children a shared value for diversity and inclusion.”

The Cold Spring Village Board also reacted at its meeting on Tuesday (Jan. 5), issuing a statement drafted by Trustees Kathleen Foley and Heidi Bender that said it was “horrified and saddened to learn about the racist attack on a Black librarian.”

“We all have a responsibility to protect our children and any member of our community who is targeted in such a heinous way,” the statement said. “We offer our support to the library and we hope the culprit or culprits will be apprehended and held accountable.”

Mayor Dave Merandy added: “I hope at some point in my life this all ends.”

Michael Turton contributed reporting.

One thought on “Children’s Gathering Hacked (Updated)

  1. This is a real shame. It would be wonderful to also see a celebration of the event as it was intended. The children and organizers all did a wonderful job, they deserve more attention than this Zoom bomber. I hope to see some photos and recipes soon. 🙂