Online 'trolls' disrupt council's virtual planning committee with porn noises and abusive language

A Somerset council’s attempt to hold a virtual planning committee meeting has been disrupted by online 'trolls' using abusive language and playing sounds from a pornographic film.

South Somerset District Council. Image: Google Maps
South Somerset District Council. Image: Google Maps

South Somerset District Council has postponed committee meetings during the coronavirus outbreak and granted delegated authority for decision-making to its chief executive.

Under the new arrangements, councillors at the authority have agreed to hold virtual meetings using video conferencing to debate officer reports and agree views without making formal decisions.

Members of the public wanting to address the council’s Area South Planning Committee last week were advised to contact the council and register their interest in advance.

However, the meeting was disrupted when users with suggestive pseudonyms joined the meeting and began using offensive language.

At one point, sounds from a pornographic film were played to the meeting participants.

The council said the disruption had only affected the early part of the meeting and that a second public virtual meeting had since been held without problems.

A council spokesman said: "Most of the public attending were very well behaved and respected the meeting.

"Unfortunately, the meeting was initially disrupted by a small number of online trolls who used homophobic, misogynistic and appalling language which will not be tolerated.

"We were, however, able to conduct a successful meeting with a number of members of the public able to participate and contribute.

"We will learn from this process and quickly review how the public can access and be part of future meetings. We need to ensure the democratic process remains open but not able to be disrupted by the poor behaviour of a small minority."

Until recently, national legislation prevented local councillors from making decisions unless meetings are held face-to-face. The law, allowing decisions to be made in virtual meetings, has since been changed.

Last week, the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea held what it claimed was England's first "fully virtual" planning committee meeting.


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