After rumors of a school shooting threat on December 17 that spread on TikTok—called “National School Shooting Day” or “National Shoot Up Your School Day”—many schools around the country are closing for the day or beefing up police presence, but law enforcement and the platform say none of the threats appear to be credible.
A trend started earlier this week claimed that students should stay home from school on Friday, because of nonspecific threats that there would be school shootings across the country. Many of these were coming from teenagers, but some were from adults and concerned parents. There have been 149 incidents of gunfire on school grounds in the U.S. so far this year, according to nonprofit gun control advocacy group Everytown, resulting in 32 deaths and 94 injuries. The student who killed four classmates in November with his father’s gun he brought to school made a video of himself pointing a gun at the camera before the shooting.
In a tweet, TikTok said that it was working with law enforcement to “look into warnings about potential violence at schools,” but claimed that the platform hasn’t seen evidence of such threats “originating or spreading via TikTok.”
In a statement to Motherboard on Friday morning, TikTok said:
“Our employees, who are also parents and members of the community, share the worry that families and educators across the country are feeling based on media reports that content rumored to be on TikTok could promote school violence. We continue to aggressively search for any such content on our platform, but 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.”
According to TikTok, the platform is in the process of removing content that spreads the message that there is a threat for December 17, under its policies that forbid spreading misinformation or induces panic.
Superintendent Stephen Jones at Little Falls Community Schools in Minnesota told the Verge that police were investigating, but that he’d only heard about the threat secondhand from students. “What I can tell you is that the threat was communicated to schools through students reportedly viewing it on TikTok,” Jones said. “The fact that the origin of the threat has not been determined has led us to be proactive in our desire to be cautious to keep our kids and families safe.”
One school in the Philadelphia area closed, while others stayed open with increased police. Houston, Texas area schools stayed open today but asked students to leave backpacks at home. The police department in Gilroy, California issued a statement that it investigated threats that seemed to target the school district there on Thursday, but found that they weren’t credible.
TikTok trends are often just jokes shared by teenagers that are taken out of proportion; earlier this year, a trend about stealing things from schools resulted in a mix of kids vandalizing school property and only pretending to, and the “slap a teacher” challenge, which is self-explanatory, was a hoax. The “National Rape Day” hoax caused a panic in April, and sex trafficking misinformation and panic is a mainstay on the platform.
It all has a flavor of the Tide Pod Challenge that spread around social media in 2018, and was also very fake. But as students post very real school shootings on TikTok as they happen, threats of violence are obviously a lot different than stolen pencil sharpeners and spicy little soap packets.