Updated: July 12, 2020
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.
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 email@example.com. 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.
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.
Set Safe Meeting Defaults
The following 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. In particular, we want to give huge props to NY Intergroup and A.A. Intergroup of SF & Marin for their valuable information. In addition to the suggestions listed below, you may want to check out this video from SENY Area 49 Tech Committee and these Zoom Tips presented on July 11.
In your Profile Settings, go to the Meeting Tab at https://zoom.us/profile/setting?tab=meeting and do the following:
- Require Encryption for 3rd Party Endpoints (H323/SIP), switch ON
- Auto saving chats, switch OFF.
- Chat, check “prevent participants from saving chat.
- Private chat, consider switching this OFF. Someone could be abusive in private chat to others and we would NOT know about it!
- File transfer, switch OFF.
- Feedback to Zoom, switch OFF.
- Screen sharing, switch OFF (or just allow host only to share things like readings).
- Disable desktop/screen share for users, switch ON.
- Remote support, switch OFF.
- Allow host to put attendee on hold, switch ON.
- Allow removed participants to rejoin, switch OFF.
Then go to the Recording tab, at https://zoom.us/profile/setting?tab=recording 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
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. For instructions on how to do this, see Enabling and adding a co-host.
Manage Disruptive Participants During a Meeting
The Meeting Participants window offers control over most aspects of your meeting and those attending. Zoom has a 10 minute long video that is recommended viewing for all meeting chairs who host meetings and anyone who plans to co-host a meeting at any time.
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.
What should you do if your meeting is disrupted?
The information below reflects Zoom’s update 5.0.
- Mute All Participants and Disable Self-Unmuting — During the meeting, the host or the co-host can see More and Mute All Controls at the bottom of the Participants list. Do that along with unchecking “Allow Participants to Unmute Themselves”.
- Change chat to “host only” — This prevents whoever is interrupting from communicating with
participants; they can only chat with you.
- Turn Off a Participant’s Video — Identify the disruptive participant(s) and hover your mouse over the right corner of that person’s video. Click the blue square with three white dots. There you will see a list of options, and you may stop the video of the participant and/or remove the person from the meeting. Alternatively, click the participants list, and hover over the disruptive participant and click More for options.
- Remove the Offending Participant — This action will kick the attendee off the call and keep them from coming back under the same account. Go to the Security window at the bottom of the screen, then select “Remove Participant”, then find the name of the offending participant by either by scrolling or searching in the window. If you don’t see the Security icon, click on Manage Participants and find the meeting disruptor and click “More”.
- Lock 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.
Other Suggested Zoom Features
- 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 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 Join Before Host to keep users out before the host arrives. When “Join Before Host” is enabled, a troll can enter at anytime and no one has control to kick them out.
- 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.
- Consider restricting In-Meeting Chat to reach only host only during the meeting. Many meetings open it up for fellowship after the meeting.
- Consider enabling Mute on Entry and Disable users to unmute themselves, which is done in the meeting room — look under participants-> More. These options are key if/when a troll arrives. It’s important to communicate to the other members what we’re doing and why. This might be somebody’s first experience with disturbing trolls and/or with having a little bit more restrictions placed on the meeting format.
Other Suggestions for Setting Up Meetings to Keep Safe From Disruptive Attendees
- You can also take a group conscience regarding screen sharing, mute and unmute privileges, chat settings among participants and more.
- Make sure your zoom meeting is set up for anonymity by following these settings.
- Take a group conscience on how to secure the meetings and keep them safe.
- Ensure that all meeting chairs have access to Host controls so they can take control of the meeting when the safety of the members are compromised.
- Train the host/chair/co-host on how to kick out attendees who become disruptive.
- For closed meetings: Consider using a private Zoom meeting link for the meeting and send only by phone or email.
- Consider hosting newcomer meetings with public links, but enable the Waiting Room, so the host/chair has to allow everyone in the meeting.
- It is not recommended to require a user/login to zoom as a requirement to join. Many older devices and phones do not even have this feature in their zoom client, and it could make it more difficult for a spun out newcomer to get into the meeting.
The Austin Bid For ICYPAA held a webinar on best practices on how to prevent Zoom Bombing to online A.A. meetings. You may 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.