Educators announced plans to improve safety in response to TikTok messages warning of gunfire and bomb threats in schools across the country on Friday, as officials reassured parents that the viral messages were not deemed credible.
Threats on social media have angered many teachers as they spread in the aftermath of the deadly shooting at a Michigan school, followed by numerous threats to emulate schools elsewhere.
School leaders in states including Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois, Montana, New York and Pennsylvania said on Thursday that the police presence will increase due to threats.
Vague anonymous messages circulating on the Internet warned that gunfire and explosions would threaten several schools.
“We are writing to inform you, not to disturb you,” school administrators in Oak Park and River Forest, Illinois, said in an email to parents. “On Friday, December 17th, we became aware of a nationwide TikTok viral trend of ‘school shootings and bomb threats for every school in the US, even elementary.’
The administration said local police departments will increase their presence around schools “out of caution.”
In a statement on Twitter, TikTok said it is working with law enforcement to investigate.
“We take even rumors seriously,” the statement said, “so we are working with law enforcement to warn of possible violence in schools, even if we have not found evidence that such threats are emanating or spreading through TikTok. … “
At least several counties announced plans to close school buildings on Friday, including Gilroy High School in northern California. Gilroy police said they found social media threats untrustworthy, but school officials said the final exams, scheduled for Friday, the last day before winter break, would be pushed back to January due to excessive caution.
“The decision to cancel classes tomorrow was not easy,” Director Greg Kapaku said in a message to his parents.
Posts follow an alarming trend with students responding to problems on social media. In September, students across the United States posted videos of them vandalizing school toilets and stealing soap dispensers as part of a “tricky lick” program.
In October, students were asked to slap a teacher, prompting the National Education Association to urge the leaders of Facebook, Twitter and TikTok to intervene.
Michigan State Police, among law enforcement officials who responded to the messages, said Thursday in a statement that they were unaware of any real threats.
Internet companies such as TikTok are generally exempt from liability under US law for the content users post on their networks, thanks in large part to the legal “safe haven” they provide under Section 230 of the Integrity Act. communication in 1996.
“It’s unlikely that TikTok will be held responsible if there really is a shooting,” said Jeff Kosseff, who has written a book on Section 230 and teaches cybersecurity law at the US Naval Academy. “Even without 230, there are many obstacles to filing a lawsuit against the media on which the threat was posted.”
But Kosseff, who received a TikTok call alert Thursday from his daughter’s school district in Arlington, Virginia, said that doesn’t mean TikTok can’t do anything about it.
“They have a lot of flexibility to do the right thing and remove malicious content. I hope they do it, ”he said.
The threats have angered educators across the country.
“Whether it was done in jest or with malicious intent, it is unacceptable. We know our school staff will do everything in their power to keep our students safe, ”Iowa Education Association, Iowa School Board Association and Iowa School Administrators said in a joint statement.
Associated Press author Matt O’Brien contributed from Providence, Rhode Island.