In this era of social distancing, recovering alcoholics are increasingly turning to online meetings as a way to stay sober. And with that comes some precautions we should take to safeguard our anonymity and try to manage participants who may disrupt the meeting. Though this article focuses on Zoom, it could be adapted to other platforms.
While disturbances can happen in physical meeting rooms, the anonymity of the Internet provides a shield for the predators. While not possible to maintain absolute security, fortunately, there are a number of features available to handle the more disruptive participants. This article focuses on waiting room vs. passwords, recommended meeting settings, host and co-hosts, and what to do if there are disruptions.
About Zoom Passwords & Waiting Room
Zoom is now enabling the waiting room feature and additional password settings for an added layer of security by default. We recommend you create a strong password (at least eight characters long that uses at least three of the following types of characters: lowercase letters, uppercase letters, numbers, symbols) that is not used anywhere else. See Setting updates for free accounts and single Pro users for more information.
If you opt to have your online meeting posted on this website, please send us your meeting invitation via a Zoom Meeting Invite, to firstname.lastname@example.org. This will give us the complete information necessary to update your meeting page to keep the schedule accurate. Please put the meeting name, day, and time in the subject field.
We suggest enabling Embed password in meeting link for one-click join which is done through in settings. This way the meeting password will be encrypted and included in the join meeting link to allow participants to join with just one click without having to enter the password.
Note that the phone only connection password is a randomly selected set of numbers, even if you use an alphanumeric password (like StaySober2020). But if you choose to use the default, or your own numeric password (e.g. 123456789), the meeting and phone password will be the same. Please provide phone information when sending us your info (copy the invitation is easiest way). Joining meetings by phone only has been a lifesaver for those without smartphones or capable computers.
You may want to consider not giving us your password to post on the website, but instead direct meeting attendees to reach out to you through a group email address, rather than personal email address, which we will publish (e.g. MyGroupName@gmail.com).
Each group will need to decide on its own course of action and and the meeting host will need to implement it.
Set Safe Meeting Defaults
The following meeting, recording, and telephone settings every Zoom account holder can make to help safeguard A.A.’s spiritual foundation of anonymity have been curated from A.A. membership across the country.
How to tell if your Zoom setting is enabled (ON) or disabled (OFF)
It can be a little confusing to know. The images below may be helpful.
In your Profile Settings, go to the Meeting Tab and do the following:
- Allow participants to join before host, switch OFF. When Join Before Host is enabled, any troll can enter at anytime and no one has control to kick them out.
- Mute all participants when they join a meeting, switch ON. Mute on entry is a fairly effective tool to prevent disturbances by latecomers.
- Require Encryption for 3rd Party Endpoints (H323/SIP), switch ON.
- Auto saving chats, switch OFF.
- Chat, check “prevent participants from saving chat.
- File transfer, switch OFF.
- Feedback to Zoom, switch OFF.
- Co-host, switch ON. Further information see below.
- Screen sharing, switch OFF (or just allow host only to share things like readings).
- Disable desktop/screen share for users, switch ON.
- Annotation, switch OFF.
- Whiteboard, switch OFF.
- Remote support, switch OFF.
- Allow removed participants to rejoin, switch OFF.
Then go to the Recording tab and make sure EVERYTHING is toggled OFF. We do NOT record our meetings or chats!
- Local recording, switch OFF
- Cloud recording, switch OFF
- Automatic recording, switch OFF
In the Zoom Settings section, under the Telephone Tab:
- Mask phone number in the participant list, switch ON. Phone numbers of users dialing into a meeting will be masked in the participant list. For example: 888****666.
- 3rd Party Audio, switch OFF
Other Suggested Zoom Settings
- Consider enabling the Waiting Room for your meeting. Some disruptors join meetings as a group; having a waiting room controls the flow. You then play an active role choosing who to allow into the room through the participants list.
- Consider restricting In-Meeting Chat to reach only host only during the meeting. Many meetings open it up for fellowship after the meeting.
- Consider switching off Private chat. Someone could be abusive in private chat to others and we would NOT know about it!
- Consider removing the ability to rename. Some disruptors enter a meeting under one name and then rename themselves to match another participant’s name thus creating confusion.
- Consider disabling participants to use a Virtual Background. If meetings have “Virtual Background Enabled” (most of ours do), note that users can play offensive porn videos using this option. You can toggle this off in your profile meeting settings.
In addition to the above suggestions, you may want to check out this video from SENY Area 49 Tech Committee and these Zoom Tips. Further reading, see this Zoom article on changing your meeting, recording, and telephone settings.
Identify a Meeting Chair AND a Co-Host
For starters, elect a co-host whose role is to shoulder the weight of maintaining order during the online meeting by managing the participants. One host acts as the traditional chair while the other manages muting & hand raising, and can be free to handle meeting intrusions. Co-hosts are assigned during a meeting and cannot start a meeting. The host can assign multiple people as co-hosts. For instructions on how to do this, see Enabling and adding a co-host.
Host — The user that started the meeting and the only person who can end a meeting or make someone else the host. They have full permissions to manage the meeting. There can only be one host of a meeting.
Co-host(s) — Shares most of the controls that hosts have, allowing the co-host(s) to manage the administrative side of the meeting, such as managing attendees.
Manage Disruptive Participants During a Meeting
Having tech-savvy hosts/ co-hosts on a PC desktop or laptop can make all the difference. A PC has more effective scrolling/clicking than on a tablet or phone, and since April 8, users on a PC have access to a security tab in the host tool bar (see In-meeting security options or view an overview video here.
If disruptors are cut off immediately and relentlessly, they tire quickly. If they get just a little bit of air time, they’ll keep coming back.
Zoom has added new security features in November 2020 to help prevent disruptions during virtual meetings and allow users to remove and report disruptive participants. Please ensure you have the most recent Zoom release downloaded and installed.
Suspend Participant Activities
All you need to do is click on the Security icon and then select Suspend Participant Activities. This will stop all video, audio, in-meeting chat, annotation, screen sharing, and recording. It will also end Breakout Rooms, if they’re in use. The hosts or co-host will be asked if they would like to report a user from their meeting, share any details, and optionally include a screenshot. Once they click “Submit,” the reported user will be removed from their meeting, and Zoom’s Trust & Safety team will be notified. Hosts and co-hosts may resume their meeting by individually re-enabling the features they’d like to use. This may also include:
- Locking the Meeting and Prevent Re-joining of Removed Participants — During the meeting, a host can see More and Mute All Controls at the bottom of the Participants list in which you click Lock Meeting to prevent other participants to join the meeting in progress. Please note after the meeting is locked, no one will be able to join the meeting. The policy of locking a meeting may be a matter to be taken up in a group conscience.
- Enabling the Waiting Room — Some disruptors join meetings as a group; having a waiting room controls the flow. You then play an active role choosing who to allow into the room through the participants list.
- Change chat to “host only” — This prevents whoever is interrupting from communicating with
participants; they can only chat with you.
The Austin Bid For ICYPAA held a webinar on best practices on how to prevent Zoom Bombing to online A.A. meetings. You may find it useful.
We are Responsible
It is unfortunate that we have a need to address this issue, but doing so and keeping online meetings going will do more to allow the sick and suffering alcoholic to find us than taking meetings underground will. Keep in mind our Responsibility Statement:
I am responsible…
When anyone, anywhere,
reaches out for help, I want
the hand of A.A. always to be there.
And for that: I am responsible.
We offer these links with the stipulation that not all of their suggestions can be applied while maintaining openness that is a part of the program of Alcoholics Anonymous.