Schools, police warn of TikTok trend of videos containing rumors of violence

DCSO: No direct threats to schools in county

MADISON, Wis. — Officials are warning parents about a TikTok trend of videos containing rumors about threats of school violence nationwide on Friday.

The videos include vague mentions of rumors of violence at schools on December 17 but offer few specifics.

The broad scope, Madison Police Captain Jason Freedman said, does not speak to the threats being credible.

“We have to follow that up and do due diligence on it,” he said. “We also know that it’s very atypical for folks that actually mean to cause harm to broadcast it in this way.”

Both the Dane County Sheriff’s Office and Dodge County Sheriff’s Office said they are not aware of any direct threats within the county but are asking parents and students to report potential threats to their schools.

In emails to parents, the Madison Metropolitan School District and the Oregon School District said they have not received any specific threats but are working with law enforcement.

A subsequent email from Memorial High School Principal Matt Hendrickson said the school got multiple anonymous phone calls around noon on Thursday warning of a vague threat toward the school. The threats were later deemed not credible and are believed to be tied to the TikTok challenge.

“This situation serves as an example of the challenge that inappropriate social media use poses to schools and youth,” Oregon Superintendent Leslie Bergstrom wrote. “Posts about school safety threats, even if they are not credible threats, cause a great deal of stress and anxiety for our students, families, and staff. We ask our families to monitor their student’s social media activity and speak with them about appropriate behavior online.”

Oregon schools may have an extra law enforcement presence Friday due to the challenge, Bergstrom wrote.

The Madison Police Department does not have specific plans to be in schools Friday, but Freedman said all officers have been told about the issue and asked to be more visible near schools.

Freedman also said there is a general heightened concern given recent incidents of violence in Madison schools but that the two are not likely connected.

“There are a lot of guns in the hands of school-aged people and that, unfortunately, there is a greater willingness, it seems, for those folks to use weapons in encounters that become very violent,” he said. “So, in general, yes, but specifically I don’t see those two things being connected.”

Still, police can’t ignore the possibility of violence. That takes away resources that could be used elsewhere, Freedman said.

“In the time that those officers are at a school or looking at this information, it means they can’t be looking or doing something else,” he said. “And that means there’s a trade-off in resources, and that can have real-world implications.”

RELATED: Schools nationwide step up security in response to threats on TikTok

The trend has captured attention across the United States. In a video posted on the social media platform, the sheriff of Lee County, Florida, warned that while the threats may be fake, those who post threats will face real consequences.

“If you think you’re going to post a threat, fake or real, I can promise you you’re not only going to get out of school — because you will — but you’re going to jail,” Sheriff Carmine Marceno said.

@sheriffleeflFake threats, real consequences. If you threaten our schools, you’ll go to JAIL #sheriffcarminemarceno #december17 #schoolthreat #staysafe #dec172021♬ Crystal Castles in the Hood – DJ Vibe Inc. & Max Barbaria

On Twitter, TikTok wrote it “handle(s) 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.”

School threats can be reported on a website set up by the Wisconsin Department of Justice.