Unverified viral rumors of threat to schools spreads nationally on TikTok


Taylor Hatmaker

A proliferation of ominous, non-specific TikTok rumors suggested that schools across the U.S. faced threats of violence on Friday, December 17. While a number of schools responded to the trend by closing their doors, many local law enforcement agencies and at least one federal one have weighed in, disclosing that the threat doesn’t appear to be substantiated.

The Department of Homeland Security noted that it is aware of reports of a possible threat to schools though did not find any “specific, credible threats.” Still, the agency encouraged that “communities remain alert.”

DHS will continue to monitor and keep the public and our partners informed. Individuals should report suspicious activity to local law enforcement. If you see something, say something.https://t.co/2Lqk9Yrcui

— Homeland Security (@DHSgov) December 17, 2021

TikTok first noted the viral rumor on Thursday, stating that it was communicating with law enforcement but had “not found evidence of such threats originating or spreading via TikTok.” While it’s true that the threat itself is nowhere to be found on TikTok, posts spreading fear around the possibility of violence on December 17 abound and likely account for the viral rumor’s swift nationwide spread.

“I luv you guys pls stay safe on dec 17,” one post under a related TikTok hashtag stated. In the comments, the video’s creator explained that “Ok so for everyone confused there’s shooting [threats] and bombing threats on dec 17 in schools in the usa my school was threatened 2 times.” Followers chimed in with stories of recent bomb threat scares in their own schools.

TikTok revisited the situation Friday morning, stating that in coordination with the FBI and DHS it was still unable to track down a credible threat that could have kicked off the viral rumors.

1/ 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.

— TikTokComms (@TikTokComms) December 17, 2021

Around the U.S., school districts and law enforcement agencies weighed in on the viral rumors, mostly urging caution while emphasizing that no specific threats have surfaced.

“There is no credible information that this threat is in anyway related to any school in the State of Illinois,” an Illinois police department tweeted Thursday. “The Glenview Police Department patrols all our school grounds daily and will continue to do so. We encourage everyone to remain vigilant and report suspicious activity.”

Florida’s Lee County Sheriff responded to the viral rumors with a TikTok video discouraging “fake threats,” like the frequent bomb threats a number of U.S. schools regularly receive.

While the rumors couldn’t be substantiated, schools in a number of states closed their doors Friday out of an abundance of caution. Across the country, local and federal law enforcement continues to monitor the situation.