'Alcohol is soooo good': Trolls are breaking into AA meetings held on Zoom video calls and harassing recovering alcoholics

Reuters/Nathan Frandino
  • Trolls have broken into multiple Alcoholics Anonymous meetings held via Zoom and harassed participants with slurs and mentions of alcohol.
  • AA meetings have moved to videoconferences as the coronavirus outbreak has forced millions of Americans to stay home.
  • “Alcohol is soooo good,” an intruder said to recovering alcoholics during a Tuesday meeting, a participant told Business Insider.
  • Zoom said it was “deeply upset” to learn of the incident and encouraged users to turn on maximum security settings.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The Tuesday-morning Alcoholics Anonymous meeting was going as planned.

Members of the New York Inter-Group Association, the regional hub for the recovery group, had been signing on to AA meetings remotely for the past week using the videoconferencing software Zoom, thanks to the government-mandated lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Then, halfway through the meeting on Tuesday morning, members heard a man’s voice shouting misogynistic and anti-Semitic slurs, along with crass references to drinking.

“Alcohol is soooo good,” the voice said, a meeting participant told Business Insider.

Meeting organisers quickly muted the intruder and removed them – but by then the meeting had been derailed and more than half of the participants had left.

The digital break-in was one of the latest instances of “Zoom-bombing,” a tactic in which trolls scour the internet for links to videoconferences and then harass participants. The FBI in Boston on Monday issued a warning about Zoom-bombing after trolls disrupted two schools’ videoconferences.

Multiple New York Inter-Group AA meetings have been the targets of Zoom-bombing this week, Business Insider has learned. The regional organisation on Monday published guidelines for members to ensure their security preferences are configured to block intruders.

A representative for the New York Inter-Group Association did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A Zoom representative told Business Insider that the company was “deeply upset to hear about the incidents involving this kind of attack” and encouraged users to report such incidents directly to Zoom.

“For those hosting large, public group meetings, we strongly encourage hosts to review their settings and confirm that only the host can share their screen,” the representative said. “For those hosting private meetings, password protections are on by default and we recommend that users keep those protections on to prevent uninvited users from joining.”

Trolls have gathered in forums hosted on 4chan and Discord to organise Zoom harassment campaigns against classrooms, businesses, and support groups in recent weeks. One YouTube channel has uploaded multiple videos showing Zoom trolling – one clip appeared to show trolls flashing bottles of whiskey in an AA meeting before it was scrubbed from YouTube, PCMag reported on Tuesday.

Virtual support-group meetings have become crucial for people with addictions and substance-use disorders as the coronavirus quarantines prevent real-world meetings from taking place in churches, community centres, and other locations. A Business Insider employee who is a member of AA published an account this month explaining the importance of the virtual meetings during the quarantine:

“We are all in our separate homes. And that can be dangerous, because alcoholics are notorious for isolating, for withdrawing from social situations – sometimes with a bottle.

“If you drink normally, you may be wondering, ‘Why not just drink – even if you have a problem? Right now, while locked down, who could that hurt?’ I can answer that. I drank myself into the emergency room years ago. I know many people who did. Do you think hospitals need that right now? Do you think healthcare workers need to deal with millions of people whose immune systems are severely compromised by binge drinking?

“What if we need to drive someone to the hospital? I drove many times in a blackout. What if, drunk, I needed more booze and went on a calamitous excursion to get it?

“Instead, I can try to be of service to someone who is alone or suffering. That service is what keeps me sober.”

Beyond the exasperation of having a meeting derailed, AA members were concerned that intruders could compromise their anonymity.

“It’s a very trusting group – I don’t know what the hacker can see, but not everybody on the screen was changing their real names,” the meeting participant told Business Insider. “If they have me recorded, that’s my real name and picture on the screen.”

Here’s how you can configure your Zoom settings to prevent disruptions from intruders.

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