We didnt have a picture of flatulence, and this is likely not the bird whose chirping interrupted ANC 7B's meeting.t have a picture of flatulence, and this is likely not the bird whose chirping interrupted ANC 7Bs meeting.s meeting. Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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Advisory Neighborhood Commission 7B’s March meeting started out innocently enough. Attendees of the Zoom conference call got an update about a bus route change, a warning to be vigilant about home break-ins because everyone is wearing a mask these days, and a question about whether any coronavirus testing sites would be set up east of the Anacostia River.

As someone’s dog barked in the background, Ward 7 Councilmember Vince Gray chimed in with an answer:

“I do. I can give you some information on that,” Gray said.

A testing site is planned at United Medical Center, Gray said, though he wasn’t sure exactly when it would open. Gray then left the conference call and promised to call back if he got an answer. But Gray would never get that chance.

Up next was Eric Winkfield, a representative from Pepco, with an update on everything the utility company is doing to help its customers.

“I just want to assure everybody we do understand that it’s really a challenging time that we’re in right now, and just wanted to make sure the community is aware of some of the steps Pepco is taking…,” Winkfield said before he was interrupted by a strange voice.

The voice enthusiastically yelled “cock,” according to an audio recording of the meeting posted to Twitter, before repeating “balls in my face, balls in my face.”

Upon hearing the vulgar interruption, Commissioner Patricia Howard-Chittams of Single Member District 7B01 scrambled to mute the calls. Winkfield continued with his announcement after what sounded to LL like a fart noise.

“Can you hear me?” Winkfield asked. 

“We can hear you,” Howard-Chittams responded.

But Winkfield didn’t get very far before the shenanigans started again—this time in the form of sensual moans (“uh, uh, uh, uh, uhhh”) followed by an “OHH YEAHH!”

Undeterred, Winkfield continued: “So we as a company, we are suspending all disconnections as well as waiving all late fees until May 1st,” he said, just as the sex noises started again.

“And also if there are customers who have been disconnected prior to the incident, we’re actually asking them to call us at our number…,” Winkfield adds before he is drowned out by a cacophony of more moaning, fart noises, birds chirping, what sounded like someone yelling “TITTIES!” and more nonsense words.

“Mortified,” Howard-Chittams said when LL asked how she’s doing this morning. “The meeting was going along fine, Vince gave some information and said he was going to hop off and come back, and then all hell broke loose.”

Howard-Chittams says she tried to mute all the callers except for the speaker, but more trolls kept coming back.

“I felt like I was playing Whac-a-mole,” she says. “I couldn’t understand how they could unmute themselves. And you would shut one down and another would pop up.”

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Commissioner Tiffany Brown of Single Member District 7B02 says at first the extra talking in the background was muddled and sounded like it was coming from a computer generated voice.

“Someone or some bot or something just logged into our meeting and you could hear them talking,” Brown says. “So I thought it was someone who maybe wasn’t savvy with technology, and then they started saying inappropriate things. Saying the n-word, saying people were cute, and they needed to wash their private parts and asking for phone numbers.”

She asks LL if he’s ever heard of such a phenomenon, and though he had not before this week, “Zoombombing” is apparently a thing the coronavirus hath wrought.

Reports of internet trolls popping into Zoom calls and using screen sharing to blast participants with vulgar and NSFW content appear in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and Reuters. Each describe situations similar to what ANC 7B experienced. Chipotle, work from home happy hours, book clubs, and journalists are among the other victims of recent Zoombombs.

In the case of two reporters who hosted a call on challenges for women in the tech industry, someone blasted the fetish porn video “2 Girls 1 Cup,” the Times reports.

This new form of internet trolling presents a difficult challenge for public bodies trying to hold meetings during a global pandemic when gathering in-person is a no-no. The ANC couldn’t restrict access to the call, Howard-Chittams says, because it’s an open meeting.

“In Zoom, you can log in with any name you so choose,” she says. “They would use a fake name. You have no way of validating if they’re there for legitimate reasons,” she says.

ANC 7B tried to meet last week using a different conference call platform, but quickly shut it down because the sound quality was so bad, she says. 

“We’re the stepchild of the District government,” she says of ANCs. “I’m just gonna say that. We get the leftovers, but we still have to function.” She says she’s exploring other options for a possible meeting in the future. The ANC’s executive committee is scheduled to meet April 1.

But LL has to hand it to ANC 7B. Through it all, they still managed to pass a motion. Before the trolls took over, commissioners voted unanimously against installation of 5G antennas, Howard-Chittams says.

She says she expects Gray to update the ANC with more information about the coronavirus testing center at UMC. She’ll post the details to the Ward 7 and Hillcrest listservs and the East of the River Facebook page.

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