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Illustration by Security Management

Latest TikTok Trend: School Violence Warnings

At least a dozen school districts in the United States were on alert last week after posts on social media platform TikTok warned of school violence and threats. But law enforcement officials deemed the vague warnings not credible, calling them copycat threats, according to The Washington Post. They are the school violence equivalent of pulling the fire alarm as a prank, although they have parents, students, and faculty understandably on edge.

Specific threats of violence were rare, but there were many videos urging students to avoid school or take precautions. Recent incidents—including a mass shooting at an Oxford, Michigan, high school and multiple bomb threats at U.S. universities—have left people tense, but law enforcement and threat assessment experts caution against putting too much weight on rumors and videos circulated on social media.

One information science professor interviewed by the Post said that while security professionals shouldn’t downplay threats, students may be taking advantage of their peers’ anxiety and fear around school violence to gain more notoriety and attention on social media.

In addition, by closing schools in response to vague threats, officials could both heighten anxiety and inspire more disruptive copycat behavior. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) acknowledged the threats but did not cite any specific information indicating credible threats.

Some schools closed on 17 December in response to the videos, but most remained open, choosing to beef up their security postures instead, bringing in police officers to help guard schools, CNN reported. Schools in the Houston, Texas, area told students to leave their backpacks at home on 17 December out of caution, ABC13 reported.

TikTok said on Twitter that the threats trending on its platform were not credible and that it had attempted to chase down the source of the rumors about school violence on 17 December. The company said it had only found videos discussing the rumors and urging people to stay safe—not direct threats, according to the BBC. Meanwhile, TikTok is “working to remove alarmist warnings that violate our misinformation policy.”