US schools increase security in response to TikTok posts warning of shooting, bomb threats – USA TODAY
School districts across the country were issuing warnings, increasing security and canceling classes Friday in response to vague, anonymous shooting and bomb threats being made on TikTok that officials say are not considered credible.
Schools in Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois, Montana, New York and Pennsylvania will increase their police presence Friday due to the threats while schools in California, Minnesota, Missouri and Texas closed for the day.
“We are writing to inform you and not alarm you,” school administrators in Oak Park and River Forest, Illinois, said in message to parents. “We have been made aware of a nationwide viral TikTok trend about ‘school shooting and bomb threats for every school in the USA even elementary’ on Friday, December 17.”
Illinois administrators said local police would increase their presence at schools “out of an abundance of caution.”
Meanwhile, TikTok said in a statement released on Twitter that it has not found such threats on its platform.
“We handle even rumored threats with utmost seriousness,” the statement said, “which is why we’re working with law enforcement to look into warnings about potential violence at schools even though we have not found evidence of such threats originating or spreading via TikTok.
What is the TikTok threat against schools?
Officials say most of the threats are generic, but at least one district in Minnesota said law enforcement determined based on interviews that it was “specifically identified in a TikTok post related to this threat,” but “the origins of this threat remain unknown.”
School officials, law enforcement and local leaders have assured parents they are monitoring the situation, but that the threats are not credible.
“There are no known specific threats against New Jersey schools,” Gov. Phil Murphy tweeted.
Police in northern California said they had found threats on social media not to be credible, but school officials at Gilroy High School postponed final exams scheduled for Friday to January, also out of an abundance of caution. In July 2019, a gunman opened fire at the Gilroy Garlic Festival and killed three people.
“Making the decision to cancel classes tomorrow has not been an easy one,” Principal Greg Kapaku said in a message to parents.
Threats follow school shooting, arrests linked to TikTok trends
And in the fall, students across the U.S. were arrested after participating in the “devious licks” trend, which involves stealing or vandalizing school property. Another list circulating online encouraged students “smack a staff member,” “mess up school signs,” “flip off the front office,” “kiss your friend’s girlfriend at school” and “jab a breast,” potentially creating chaos at schools.
A few students in California, Florida and Texas were arrested earlier this week for allegedly making threats and bringing weapons to school, according to local media reports, but officials have not said those arrests are connected to the reported TikTok threats.
The rumored threats outraged educators around the country already overwhelmed with the chaos of teaching during a pandemic.
“Whether done as a joke or with malicious intent, it’s unacceptable,” officials with the Iowa State Education Association, the Iowa Association of School Boards and School Administrators of Iowa said in a joint statement.
Internet companies such as TikTok are generally exempt from liability under U.S. law for the material users post on their networks, thanks in large part to the legal “safe harbor” they are given by Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act.