After shocking hate speech incident in front of high schoolers, South Bay city may have first-in-the-state Zoombombing solution

After banning remote public comments last year in response to a Zoom hate speech incident, Morgan Hill narrowly voted this week to reinstate it. The new regulation seeks to exploit a legal loophole to allow virtual comments while cutting off hate speech — in a potential first for California.

The move follows an incident last October, when remote commenters began to spout Neo-Nazi, antisemitic, homophobic and violent rhetoric during the public comment period, in front of over a dozen visiting high schoolers.

The incident prompted the city to cut remote public comment to prevent further hate speech, but in the intervening months, some council members–who had not voted on the policy–questioned the ban. On Wednesday, an item to reinstate virtual public comment returned for consideration, leading to a hotly contested debate over public access versus hate speech.

Councilmember Gino Borgioli spoke in strong opposition to the measure, noting that community members were free to submit comments via email, and emphasizing the impact of the hate speech incident last year.

“I watched those high school kids’ faces … that hate speech was horrible,” he said. “If we vote to go forward with this… and it happens again, shame on us.”

Councilmember Martínez Beltrán came out in staunch support of remote public comment, saying that it offered increased access to disabled, elderly and working class individuals and noting that city councilmembers enjoyed the opportunity to participate remotely in meetings.

“We need to adapt, we need to meet people where they are,” she said.

Morgan Hill resident Armando Benevides said that he had commented remotely on other local government meetings and wanted that same ability in Morgan Hill. “We’re talking about community engagement … there is no better goal,” he said. “Just because somebody came in and decided to make a hateful speech, why should we scuttle the right for everybody?”

“I’m torn on this because I don’t want to listen to bigoted hate speech – I’ve had enough of that in my life,” said councilmember Renee Spring, Morgan Hill’s first openly gay city council member.

Spring proposed a compromise measure which would only allow remote commenters to comment on items listed on the agenda. Public comment is split into two sections: open public comment which has very little restriction, and public comment on each agenda item, which must be related to the topics discussed by the council.

In theory, the distinction could force remote commenters to stay on topic and empower the mayor to cut off comments that veered into hate speech, a practice that is already in place in Tacoma and Seattle, according to Spring.

While there are other cities in California which have considered the solution, City Attorney Donald Larkin stressed that they were treading unexplored legal ground in the state. “I just don’t know (if we can) treat those different public comments differently,” said Larkin during the meeting. “I suspect it would be ok, but I just don’t want to say.”

The compromise motion passed in a 3-2 vote, with Mayor Mark Turner and Councilmember Borgioli in opposition.

Moving forward, …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment


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