Educators announced plans to increase security in response to social media posts warning of shootings and bomb threats at schools nationwide on Friday.
Officials said the anonymous threats on TikTok were not credible but assured parents that security would be tightened, The Associated Press reported.
Update 12:30 p.m. EST Dec 17: TikTok said Friday that it had searched for content that promoted violence but found nothing. The company, however, did find content discussing the rumor and that “local authorities, the FBI and DHS have confirmed there’s no credible threat.”
Original report: Despite the reassurances, some parents are opting to keep their children home on Friday.
“If there is a threat made, we take it seriously,” one Florida parent, who asked not to be identified, told Cox Media Group on Thursday night. “(You) don’t get a second chance.”
In a statement posted to its Twitter account, TikTok’s communications team said, “We handle even rumored threats with utmost seriousness, 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.”
Educators were being cautious in the wake of a deadly school shooting in Oxford, Michigan, on Nov. 30, when a 15-year-old gunman killed four students and wounded seven other people. The shooting has been followed by numerous copycat threats to schools in other districts.
There have been nine active and 235 non-active shooter incidents at schools so far this year, according to the Center for Homeland Defense and Security.
School officials in Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois and Montana said Thursday there would be an increased police presence due to the threats, according to the AP.
“We are writing to inform you and not alarm you,” Oak Park and River Forest, Illinois, school administrators said in an email 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, Dec. 17.”
In Los Angeles, a spokesperson for the FBI told KABC-TV that the bureau “takes all potential threats seriously.”
“We regularly work with our law enforcement partners to determine the credibility of any threats,” the spokesperson told the television station. “As always, we would like to remind members of the public that if they observe anything suspicious to report it to law enforcement immediately. While we continue to monitor intelligence, we are not aware of any specific threats or known credible threats to schools in the Los Angeles region at this time.”
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy tweeted that while there are “no known specific threats” against schools in the state, he has spoken about the viral posts with the state’s attorney general, the head of the state police and the acting director of the state’s Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.
“We will work closely with law enforcement to monitor the situation and remain prepared,” Murphy tweeted.
Police in Seattle opened investigations into two schools Wednesday and closed another one after staff members alerted authorities to social media posts warning of shootings, according to a news release.
The posts on TikTok follow a trend that has had students acting out social media challenges. In September, students nationwide participated in a “devious licks” challenge, where they posted videos of themselves vandalizing school bathrooms and stealing soap dispensers, the AP reported.
A social media challenge in October encouraged students to slap a teacher, which led the National Education Association to urge the leaders of Facebook, Twitter and TikTok to intervene, according to the AP.
“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. “We know our school personnel will do everything in their power to keep our students safe.”
Internet companies such as TikTok are generally exempt from liability under U.S. law for what is posted on their platforms, thanks to Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, the AP reported.
“It would be unlikely that TikTok would be liable if there were actually to be a shooting,” Jeff Kosseff, who wrote a book about Section 230 and teaches cybersecurity law at the U.S. Naval Academy, told the AP. “Even without 230, there are just a lot of barriers against being able to bring a cause of action against the medium on which a threat was posted.”
Kosseff said he got a warning about the TikTok challenge from his daughter’s school district in Arlington, Virginia.
He said that even with the protections from Section 230, TikTok and other social media platforms can act to prevent harmful or potentially dangerous content.
“They have a lot of flexibility to be doing the right thing and taking down harmful content,” Kosseff told the AP. “I am hopeful they are doing that.”
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