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West Orange Times & Observer Tuesday, Mar. 1, 2022 5 months ago

Hackers hijack Oakland candidates forum

Participants began broadcasting pornography and offense music during the VoxPopuli Candidates Forum for Oakland Town Commission Seat 1 last night.

READ MORE: The Observer published a Q&A featuring both candidates, which can be found here.

Anyone who watched the Zoom livestream of the VoxPopuli Candidates Forum for Oakland Town Commission Seat 1 Monday, Feb. 28, was subjected to more than a debate over water usage and community outreach.

The trouble on the livestream began at about 8 p.m., when a Zoom participant using the name “Nickher” began presenting a pornographic video to everyone on the Zoom call. The problems continued when other users followed suit to broadcast expletive-laden rap music on the call.

Although the forum took place at the Oakland Meeting Hall, it was not a town-hosted event.

According to Zoom, by default, any participant in a meeting can share their video, screen and audio. However, hosts have the ability to limit these permissions, but it seems that was not done prior to the forum.

The forum was moderated by Norine Dworkin, VoxPopuli editor-in-chief, and featured Oakland candidate Rick Polland (incumbent) and Matthew Bunevich (challenger). The election takes place Tuesday, March 8.

"I imagine it was pretty shocking to tune into a political discussion and get barraged with such ugliness," Dworkin said. "That was an unfortunate occurrence. We did a post-mortem ... and established some procedures so that we won't get hacked like that again.

"The main thing to remember, however, is that before the disruption, the people of Oakland who gathered at the Meeting Hall or who did tune in on Zoom got an opportunity to hear two very different candidates talk about issues that are important to Oakland," she said. "If Oaklanders came away from the event knowing more about the candidates and where they stand on key issues than when it started, we achieved our goal."

Despite the hack, Bunevich said the forum was a success.

It’s just unfortunate," he said. "I think it’s unfortunate we can’t do things, but it also happens. ... It was a great experience. It highlighted there’s some passion for Oakland."

Polland declined to comment.

Dworkin describes VoxPopuli as an alternative voice for community news, covering politics, government and social-justice issues.

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