PORTLAND, Ore. — A nationwide social media challenge involving threats of violence at schools has local districts investigating and sending information to families.
The app TikTok has been the main culprit, said Portland Public Schools officials. Vague threats of school shootings and violence that were supposedly going to happen on Friday, Dec. 17 have been circulating on the social media app. Typically, the posts don’t mention individual districts. To be clear, KGW has not heard of any that were truly credible.
Still, the posts cause a lot of anxiety.
“It's really frustrating that it spreads and creates anxiety that doesn't need to be there, especially for our youngest students,” said Abby Nilsen-Kirby. She is a mom to three kids in Portland Public Schools.
Nilsen-Kirby said she has a child in second grade, fourth grade and a freshman in high school. She said her fourth grader was most affected by the most recent threats of school violence being shared on the app TikTok.
“He was the one last night that was up and worried about going to school today,” Nilsen-Kirby said Friday.
How school districts handle social media threats
“TikTok has been problematic this year, more so than in years past,” said Molly Romay, the senior director of security and emergency management for Portland Public Schools.
Romay couldn't quantify the exact number of social media threats the district has received and investigated, only saying there's been an uptick the last couple weeks.
The district has seen a range of threats about different kinds of school violence, which Romay said is unfortunately typical after a tragedy like the deadly school shooting in Michigan last month.
“We always will notify Portland Police Bureau," she said. "We will start internal investigations, doing interviews with students, families that might have some additional information.”
She said if a student is involved in a social media threat, there are consequences involving discipline and potential wraparound support at school. While she didn't want to speak for police, she has heard of students being prosecuted in other parts of the country.
Local law enforcement's involvement
Portland police spokesman Sgt. Kevin Allen told KGW in an e-mail, “Generally the applicable criminal charge for that kind of thing would be disorderly conduct in the second degree, although PPB takes a restorative justice approach to any crimes involving youth. A criminal charge is sometimes not the best solution and PPB tries, where appropriate, to assist with referrals to counseling, therapy, and non-criminal sanctions in collaboration with the school district and the district attorney’s office.”
Allen also said officers were doing extra high-visibility patrols in the community when they had time between calls.
The spokesperson for the Portland office of the FBI said the bureau takes all potential threats seriously.
“We regularly work with our law enforcement partners to determine the credibility of any threats. As always, we would like to remind members of the public that if they observe anything suspicious to report it to law enforcement immediately,” wrote Beth Anne Steele with public affairs for the FBI’s Portland branch.
See something, say something... but don't repost
Romay applauded students who have reported their concerns and emphasized school safety is everyone's responsibility. Portland mom Nilsen-Kirby agreed with that sentiment.
“Parents need to really step up, monitoring online interactions that kids are having and what they're posting and what they're participating in,” Nilsen-Kirby said.
Romay is asking students and family members to report social media threats, but not share or repost them because it can create more fear.
Other school districts in the Portland metro area are handling the threats on social media in a similar fashion.