Law enforcement agencies and school districts across the country said Thursday they were aware of anonymous posts on short-form video app TikTok that alleged school shootings will take place in the US on Dec. 17 but concluded the threat wasn’t credible.
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The Baltimore County Public Schools in Maryland tweeted that law enforcement officials have investigated one threat and “determined that it originated in Arizona and is not credible.” The Baltimore County Public Schools didn’t immediately respond to questions about what video it’s referencing in the tweet.
TikTok said it’s working with law enforcement but hasn’t found “evidence of such threats originating or spreading via TikTok.” CNET wasn’t able to find a TikTok video that explicitly said school shootings had been planned. However, multiple viral videos, including one with more than 2 million views, were posted by anonymous users who stated they were “praying for all schools” on Friday.
Two videos that CNET sent to TikTok are now unavailable. TikTok didn’t immediately respond to questions about whether the company removed those videos.
On Friday, the company said it was working to remove “alarmist warnings” that violate its misinformation policy. “We’ve exhaustively searched for content that promotes violence at schools today, but have still found nothing. What we find are videos discussing this rumor and warning others to stay safe,” TikTok tweeted.
The company has rules against threatening or inciting violence and said it might suspend or ban accounts that do so. TikTok also encourages users to stop and think before they participate in online challenges and notes that some challenges are hoaxes.
Reports about alleged school shooting threats on TikTok and other social media platforms prompted schools to warn parents and ask the public to be on the lookout for suspicious activity.
In Glenview, Illinois, the Glenview Police Department said it was “aware of a threat circulating on social media regarding school shootings and bomb threats at every school” nationwide. It said there wasn’t any “credible information” the threat is related to a school in Illinois. Glenview police spokesman Sgt. Joel Detloff said the department didn’t have any further comment beyond its social media post.
Officials with the Tooele County School District in Utah said it became aware of a “nationwide trend where students post a threat regarding gun violence in schools on social media.”
“We believe it originated with TikTok, but it has been seen on Instagram and Facebook as well,” district officials said in a post. Multiple outlets, the district said, stated the threat started off as a way for kids to skip school but “morphed into something much more disturbing.” The district didn’t list the outlets it was referencing.
The Tooele County School District and Facebook didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The concerns raised by police and school districts come as social media sites face more scrutiny about the harms their platforms may be having on children. Officials at TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Google-owned YouTube have testified before US lawmakers about child online safety.
TikTok has been under fire before for harmful challenges that encourage users to stuff Tide Pods in their mouths or to overdose on allergy medication. There have also been reports of challenges that turned out to be hoaxes. Fact-checking website Snopes, for example, reported in October there’s little evidence to suggest that slapping a teacher was an actual challenge on TikTok despite media reports.