The Wyoming Public Service Commission is holding a series of meetings to give the public plenty of opportunity to provide feedback on a requested 30% rate increase from Rocky Mountain Power.
To ensure wide participation, the meetings are also accessible via Zoom and very accessible — perhaps a bit too accessible.
A group of pranksters online exploited the PSC’s permissible Zoom access to disrupt Monday’s meeting held in Riverton.
One person turned on his video camera and began shouting repeatedly, “Shut up, n****r.” He then stood up and exposed his genitals to the camera.
The offender was removed, but others also continued hopping on the Zoom call and disrupting the speakers. Some spoofed the names of other attendees and called out racial slurs. Others used loud horn sounds to drown out whoever was speaking at the time.
One of those participants who was drowned out by a horn blast was former Wyoming state Sen. Eli Bebout, who paused momentarily until the disruptor was ejected.
“That was probably someone who doesn’t like coal,” Bebout remarked and continued undeterred with his statement.
John Burbridge, secretary and chief counsel for the PSC, said he thought the online disruption — called Zoom-bombing — was a coordinated effort by kids.
“It all happened at the same time,” Burbridge said.
It didn’t appear that it was a reaction to the viewpoints being expressed.
He commended the commission’s IT people for ejecting the trolls as quickly as they did. After several disruptions early in the meeting, the trolls gave up.
Burbridge said that the PSC is trying to make the meetings as accessible as possible so they make it easy to turn on microphones and participate.
He said they can mute people who try to disrupt the meeting, but the offenders just turn their microphones back on. He wasn’t aware of any way to stop it.
Zoom provides meeting controls that allow the hosts to stop all kinds of actions on the part of participants. They can mute specific participants, mute all participants at once, and block participants from unmuting themselves.
Burbridge said he hoped the disruptions don’t distract from the important issues the PSC is trying to get public input on. He said the commission knows its decisions can have wide impacts on the people of Wyoming.
Burbridge said that, as with the other videos from the other meetings, the PSC will post the video from Monday night’s meeting. However, it’s going to be edited to remove anything offensive, so there will be a short delay in getting the video up.
Kevin Killough can be reached at Kevin@cowboystatedaily.com.