School division responds to nationwide TikTok threat

Published 9:00 pm Thursday, December 16, 2021

Suffolk Public Schools Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III said in a statement that while it did not find a threat to school safety posted on the social media platform TikTok to be credible, the division is taking it seriously and monitoring it closely.

“Suffolk Public Schools has become aware of a troubling post that has been shared widely this week on TikTok,” Gordon wrote in a letter posted as an alert on the division’s website Dec. 16. “The post refers to a threat to school safety ‘for every school in the USA, even elementary,’ on Friday, December 17. The post appears to be part of a national TikTok trend and did not originate in our school district.”

Other school divisions across the region and the country have also noted the TikTok threat in similar warnings and have been cautioning school communities about it.

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Gordon said the school division has been in contact with the Suffolk Police Department about the post, and said it will have “an increased police presence in the main thoroughfares of our schools” during the morning Dec. 17.

“This situation serves as a good example of why it is important to avoid sharing posts online that refer to school safety threats,” Gordon wrote. “Even if they are not credible threats, they can cause a great deal of stress and anxiety for our students, families and staff.”

He said parents should monitor their children’s social media activity, speak with them about how to conduct themselves online and if they learn of a possible threat posted to social media or elsewhere, to contact a school staff member or trusted adult immediately.

Besides Suffolk, school divisions in York County, Williamsburg-James City County, Gloucester County, Newport News, Chesapeake and Virginia Beach also warned about the challenge.

The statements have all noted this being part of a nationwide trend.

TikTok itself issued a statement Dec. 16 which stated that it handles “even rumored threats with utmost seriousness” and is working with law enforcement to look into warnings about possible school violence “even though we have not found evidence of such threats originating or spreading via TikTok.”

SPS in October began a social media campaign, “Pause Before You Post,” calling for students and the school community to think about what they plan to post before posting it. While the campaign ran from Oct. 22 through Nov. 30 through a series of posts on the division’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages, and individual schools have been posting similar messages of pausing before posting on their own platforms, the division has continued to emphasize this. It has put signs in all of its 21 schools to stay up throughout the current school year.