School shooting threats on TikTok prompt US shutdowns | Social Media News

A wave of school shooting threats circulating on TikTok and other social media prompted some US schools to close on Friday and others to increase police presence.

Typically, the threats do not name specific schools, and local and federal officials said many lacked credibility. Still, the threats give a date — Dec. 17 — for major schools in Michigan, Washington and elsewhere to temporarily keep children at home. Many videos show text warning of a bombing or shooting on Friday, with no schools, districts or even states listed.

There have been nine school shootings and 235 so-called non-active shooter incidents this year, according to the Center for Homeland Defense and Security, and districts and law enforcement say they take every warning seriously.

‘No known threat’

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said while there are “no known specific threats,” he has spoken about the viral posts with the state’s attorney general and security officials. “We will be working closely with law enforcement to monitor the situation and stay prepared,” Murphy said on Twitter.

Community schools in Oxford, Michigan, where a boy killed four students in late November, closed all buildings due to a new shooting threat. Seattle police opened investigations at two schools Wednesday morning and closed one after staff alerted authorities to the social media posts, according to a news release.

Officials in Tooele County, Utah, said the trend originated on TikTok as a way for students to skip school. They said it had spread to other internet platforms like Instagram and Facebook “and morphed into something much more disturbing,” in a statement Wednesday.

Schools in the New York metropolitan area were also affected. Public Schools in Pelham, Westchester County, New York, moved classes online on Friday after a threat to the high school on Snapchat.

In Glenview, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, police found the shootings and bomb threats circulating on social media were not credible, according to a press release posted on the department’s Facebook page.

Glenview School District 34 is operating normally, with more police than normal, said Cathy Kedjidjian, director of communications and strategic planning. “We were specifically made aware of this by the Glenview Police Department, which shared information from the Illinois State Police,” she said.

Ashley Gonzalez, chief of police for the Austin Independent School District in Texas, sent a letter to the community alerting to an “unspecific” shooting threat on Dec. 17.

“These threats in no way mention an Austin ISD school and are believed to be part of a national trend,” said Gonzalez, who nonetheless planned to step up security. “Unfortunately, we have seen a tendency to repost posts that have no relation to our city, region or schools and many of the threats end up being pranks.”

Problematic content

TikTok, owned by ByteDance Ltd., is among several social media companies that have come under fire for posting harmful videos, especially among children. This year, teachers called on the company to intervene in a so-called TikTok challenge to slap their teachers.

“This isn’t the first disturbing ‘challenge’ targeting students, educators and their public schools to circulate on TikTok,” said Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association, a union representing 3 million educators. “These types of threats and social media trends are very disturbing and in no way funny.”

This week, TikTok said it would change its algorithm to reduce problematic content. The tech company, whose app has surpassed one billion users, also said it was working with law enforcement to address shooting threats.

“We treat even rumors of threats with the utmost seriousness, which is why we work with law enforcement to review warnings about potential violence in schools,” the company said in a statement.