The last few days of school before the holiday break are supposed to be a time of fun and cheer. However, for many students and teachers, it has instead been a time of terror and insecurity. A wave of school violence threats — bombings, shootings, etc — many of which originated from an alleged TikTok challenge, has paralyzed classrooms around the country.
In Frisco, Texas, seven students (including middle schoolers) have already been arrested in relation to the threats, with more arrests expected. Several New York City schools went into lockdown, and parents blasted the district for not giving them immediate notice that these threats existed. Mississippi’s Tupelo Public School District has been beefing up security for the past week, fearful that the TikTok threats were no bluff. Hundreds of districts in almost every state have reported similar experiences.
TikTok released a statement on Twitter denying any responsibility for the threats:
“We handle even rumored threats with utmost seriousness, which is why we’re working with law enforcement to look into warnings about potential violence at schools even though we have not found evidence of such threats originating or spreading via TikTok,” the statement said.
“Update: 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,” the statement continued.
TikTok, which is owned by a Chinese company with close ties to the Chinese Communist Party, also expressed concern that “media reports have been widespread and based on rumors rather than facts” and claimed that such reports are “inspiring real world harm.”
However, even a quick scan of local news outlets around the country reveals numerous examples of school-specific TikTok threats. These include Badger High School in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, Indian Trails Middle School in Flagler County, Florida, and possibly Granite High School in Arizona.
“It definitely puts schools in a tough spot,” Justin Patchin, a criminal justice professor at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, told CNET. “There are these potential threats they can’t ignore but they also can’t shut down schools every time someone posts a generalized threat on social media.”
After all, only one serious threat is required for a national tragedy to unfold. Student behavior in general is worsening, so teachers and administrators cannot afford to dismiss these threats as nothing more than social media conspiracies.
It is becoming clear that TikTok is not an ordinary social media site. While toxicity and illegal activity can exist anywhere on the internet, TikTok seems to have a special proclivity for it. If nothing on either a cultural or a political level is done about it, these horrifying “challenges” will only continue. Our kids and schools deserve better.