Last week on Thursday night, the BHS superintendent, Mr. Fournier, sent a message concerning the safety of the Bedford School District. The message read as follows:
“Dear Bedford Families & Staff ~
I would like to inform you that the Bedford School District and Bedford Police Department are aware of online messaging regarding school threats for tomorrow, December 17, 2021.
At present, these threats are considered not credible pertaining to specific schools or locations. These are messages being seen across the country.
As always, if you come across a school threat, please inform the school administration. All threats are shared with the Bedford Police to determine credibility.
Thank you for your trust as we educate your children.”
The shooting and bomb threats first began circulating as a Tik Tok trend to harm schools across the United States on December 17. These posts were ambiguous and addressed to the nation as a whole, rather than directed towards a specific area or school district. Following a recent major tragedy in Oxford, Michigan, this disturbing social media trend has raised concern for many students, families, and educators.
These threats are among one of many troubling trends this school year. As a part of the “devious licks” challenge in September, students were encouraged to vandalize school bathrooms and steal soap dispensers. Furthermore, in October, students were challenged to slap their teachers, a serious cause for harm.
In a statement on Twitter Thursday afternoon, TikTok made the following statement to speak on the rumors circulating the social media app about December 17:
“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 next morning on Friday, December 17, TikTok further addressed the situation through multiple updates:
“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.”
“Local authorities, the FBI, and DHS have confirmed there’s no credible threat, so we’re working to remove alarmist warnings that violate our misinformation policy. If we did find promotion of violence on our platform, we’d remove and report it to law enforcement.”
“Media reports have been widespread and based on rumors rather than facts, and we are deeply concerned that the proliferation of local media reports on an alleged trend that has not been found on the platform could end up inspiring real harm.”
Jeff Kosseff, associate professor of Cybersecurity Law at the United States Naval Academy, published The Twenty-Six Words That Created the Internet, which exposes the history behind Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. This law states that “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider”. Essentially, even if real harm were to occur, it is unlikely that TikTok would be held responsible since Section 230 protects “online services from lawsuits based on user content”.
With the recent shooting at Oxford and the circulation of threats across the nation, many districts have increased police presence on campus. In addition to this security measure, Bedford is also making some policy changes at the high school. Beginning in the new year, students will no longer be able to use the side doors during school hours and are encouraged to refrain from using them after school as well. To implement this rule, the school will be installing a silent alarm on every side door; when opened during school hours, a text message will be sent directly to notify the principal, both assistant principals, and two officers from Bedford Police Department. As stated by Principal Jozokos, this is purely a security precaution to ensure the safety of all students and staff during this unprecedented time.