Schools across the country will be closed on Friday, December 17th as a result of alleged threats made on the microblogging app TikTok. According to the districts and local media reports, schools in California, Texas, Minnesota, and Missouri will be closed on Friday. Districts in other states and provinces have informed parents via email or social media that they are conducting investigations into the accusations.
It's not clear whether the threats are credible or even exist. Schools and police departments say they've heard rumors of mass shootings and bombings on December 17th, but it is unclear how many have encountered a direct threat to their campuses or whether any of their schools have been specifically targeted.
According to a number of law enforcement agencies, the threats are neither serious or even real. Baltimore County Public Schools tweeted that “law enforcement authorities have reviewed this threat and found that it originated in Arizona and is not credible.” Mexico, [Missouri] school district reported that there have been no recent threats to the district's schools. In a letter to parents, the Milford Exempted Village School District in Ohio stated that “there have been no local, serious threats”. Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey stated on Twitter that the state's schools face “no known specific threats.”
While there are no known specific threats against New Jersey schools, the safety of our children is our highest priority and we will work closely with law enforcement to monitor the situation and remain prepared.
— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) December 16, 2021
Threats made on TikTok may be a self-perpetuating cycle. A number of videos have been posted on TikTok warning others that they should skip school on December 17th owing to the supposedly imminent threat of shootings or bombings. Additionally, a fresh wave of videos has emerged warning of potential dangers in light of the school cancellations, based both on claims and the actual cancellations themselves.
According to TikTok, no videos have been found that make specific threats. The business tweeted Thursday afternoon, “We have not uncovered proof of such threats originating or spreading via TikTok.” “Utmost seriousness” was TikTok's response when asked if company was working with law enforcement to investigate the warnings.
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.
— TikTokComms (@TikTokComms) December 16, 2021
After receiving word from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety that “a TikTok trend had formed targeting Friday, December 17, as a day of threats of shootings and bombings in schools,” one Minnesota school district decided to cancel Friday's classes. Little Falls was “particularly mentioned in a TikTok post linked to this threat,” according to a posting on the Little Falls Community Schools website, unlike other schools and school districts that think they haven't been specifically named.
That being said, the district did not claim that they had really observed the danger.
The Little Falls school system canceled the event after conferring with law authorities, according to Superintendent Stephen Jones in an email to The Verge. According to Jones, the threat was communicated to schools via TikTok by students who had reportedly seen it. Police are currently conducting an investigation. Our urge to protect our children and families has been fueled by the fact that the source of the threat has not been discovered.”
An alleged threat to a school was intercepted by at least one police station on Friday; School was canceled in Gilroy, California, after a threatening message included the initials of a local high school. However, according to the LAPD, they discovered that the message was actually about a different Los Angeles high school. Police in Los Angeles have identified the poster and found that he does not pose a “credible danger.” TikTok was not mentioned by Gilroy police, but that's not surprising. Two police departments in California did not immediately reply to demands for additional information on the incident.
In the past, school districts have had to deal with the spread of hazardous misinformation on TikTok. Earlier this year, there was a “slap a teacher” challenge that turned out to be bogus, causing some alarm. Another alleged challenge had students stealing stuff from their school; some students actually carried it out, while others pretended to take things in order to join in on the trend.