- Trolls broke into multiple Alcoholics Anonymous meetings being held via Zoom video conference and harassed participants with slurs and mentions of alcohol.
- AA meetings have moved to Zoom as the coronavirus outbreak forces millions of Americans to stay home.
- “Alcohol is soooo good,” an intruder said to recovering alcoholics during a Tuesday meeting, a meeting participant told Business Insider.
- Zoom said in a statement that it was “deeply upset” to learn of the incident and encouraged users to turn on maximum security settings.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
At first, the Tuesday morning Alcoholics Anonymous meeting was going as planned.
Members of the New York Inter-Group Association, the regional hub for the recovery group, had been signing on to AA meetings remotely for the past week using the video conferencing software Zoom thanks to the government-mandated lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Then, halfway through the meeting Tuesday morning, members heard a man’s voice shouting misogynistic and anti-Semitic slurs, along with crass references to drinking.
“Alcohol is soooo good,” the voice said, a meeting participant told Business Insider.
Meeting organizers were able to quickly mute the intruder and remove them from the meeting - but by then, the meeting had been derailed, and more than half the participants had left.
The digital break-in was one of the latest instances of "Zoom bombing," a tactic in which trolls scour the internet for links to video conferences and then harass participants. The FBI issued a warning about Zoom bombing Monday after multiple schools' web conferences were disrupted by trolls.
Multiple New York Intergroup AA meetings have been the targets of Zoom bombing this week alone, Business Insider has learned. The regional organization published guidelines Monday for members to ensure their meetings have their security preferences configured to block unwanted intruders.
A spokesperson for the New York Intergroup Association did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
When reached for comment, a Zoom spokesperson told Business Insider the company is "deeply upset to hear about the incidents involving this kind of attack" and encouraged users to report such incidents to Zoom directly.
"For those hosting large, public group meetings, we strongly encourage hosts to review their settings and confirm that only the host can share their screen. For those hosting private meetings, password protections are on by default and we recommend that users keep those protections on to prevent uninvited users from joining," the Zoom spokesperson said.
Trolls have gathered in forums hosted on 4chan and Discord to organize Zoom harassment campaigns against classrooms, businesses, and support groups in recent weeks. One YouTube channel has uploaded multiple videos showing Zoom trolling - one clip showed members flashing Jack Daniels bottles to an apparent AA meeting before it was scrubbed from YouTube, PCMag reported Monday.
Virtual support group meetings have become crucial for people with substance abuse problems as the coronavirus quarantines prevent the regular real-world meetings from taking place in churches, community centers and other locations. A Business Insider employee who is a member of AA published an account this month explaining the importance of the virtual meetings during the quarantine:
"We are all in our separate homes. And that can be dangerous, because alcoholics are notorious for isolating, for withdrawing from social situations - sometimes with a bottle.
If you drink normally, you may be wondering, "Why not just drink - even if you have a problem? Right now, while locked down, who could that hurt?" I can answer that. I drank myself into the emergency room years ago. I know many people who did. Do you think hospitals need that right now? Do you think healthcare workers need to deal with millions of people whose immune systems are severely compromised by binge drinking?
What if we need to drive someone to the hospital? I drove many times in a blackout. What if, drunk, I needed more booze and went on a calamitous excursion to get it?
Instead, I can try to be of service to someone who is alone or suffering. That service is what keeps me sober."
Beyond the exasperation of having a meeting derailed, AA members were also concerned that intruders to the meeting could compromise their anonymity.
"It's a very trusting group - I don't know what the hacker can see, but not everybody on the screen was changing their real names," the meeting participant told Business Insider. "If they have me recorded, that's my real name and picture on the screen."
Here's how you can configure your Zoom settings to prevent disruptions from intruders.