(CNN Business)A vague and viral TikTok trend warning of nationwide school violence on Friday — which authorities have dismissed as non-credible — has nevertheless prompted widespread school closures, stretched law enforcement resources and put families on edge ahead of a critical holiday travel season.
A number of school districts in states ranging from Minnesota to Texas announced they were shutting down schools on Friday in response to a wave of videos, some mentioning specific schools, suggesting that students avoid coming to class on Dec. 17. In other areas, law enforcement were on high alert, sending officers to guard schools as a precaution.
The US Department of Homeland Security said Friday morning it has no evidence to suggest the claims are credible but encouraged the public to “remain alert.”
Hilary McQuaide, a TikTok spokesperson, told CNN Friday morning that while the company is aware of vague warnings on its platform of possible school violence, it still has not found any original, specific threats of violence that may have prompted the viral warnings. On Thursday afternoon, the company tweeted that it treats “even rumored threats with utmost seriousness.”
TikTok said Friday it continues to monitor its platform for suspicious activity, but added that media coverage characterizing the viral trend as a threat of school violence could unintentionally encourage someone who may be predisposed to act — creating the very risks that families fear.
“We are deeply concerned that the proliferation of local media reports on an alleged trend that has not been found on the platform could end up inspiring real world harm,” the company said.
A federal law enforcement source agreed, telling CNN that authorities worry most that the rapidly unfolding social media narrative could drive a lone offender to carry out an actual attack. The situation is an illustration of the current threat environment in the United States, the source added.
“This is an illustration of how social media and other communication platforms play a role in spreading threat related narratives, which then can result in the need for escalated security measures in and around parts our critical infrastructure,” the source said.
In Little Falls Community Schools in Minnesota said Thursday that it would preemptively close on Friday after the district was “specifically identified in a TikTok post” linked to the warning trend. Kaufman High School in Texas also canceled classes, according to a local media report. In Georgia, Atlanta Public Schools said in a letter to parents that some facilities would be beefing up security on Friday, according to local reports, while schools in Polk County closed altogether.
And in a letter posted to its Facebook page, Albemarle County Public Schools near Charlottesville, Va. said the TikTok trend is a reminder not to share posts about school violence.
“Even if they are not credible threats, they can cause a great deal of stress and anxiety for our students, families, and staff,” the letter read. “Creating or sharing such posts can also lead to criminal charges. We ask our families to monitor their children’s social media activity and speak with them about proper behavior online.”
NYC Department of Education Chancellor Meisha Porter addressed the social media challenge in an email to families on Friday, saying the challenge encouraged students to “call in bomb threats, school shooting threats, etc.” Porter emphasized the threats were not specific to only New York City and many of the posts are general and not specific to one school.
“Any social media posts of challenges involving threats or actions of violence against school communities will not be tolerated,” Porter’s email said. “Threats of violence have very real consequences regardless of the reason the threat was made, and we do not want our young people to jeopardize their bright futures over social media challenges such as these.”
Porter encouraged families who see threats aimed at specific schools to call 911.
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