Educators across the U.S. have been put on high alert after claims surfaced that a meme was circulating on TikTok encouraging young people to call in violent threats against their own schools on December 17. Some school districts have even canceled classes in response to the meme. Strangely, Gizmodo couldn’t find a single example of a violent threat against a school on the social media platform.
The story caught fire Thursday, with local news outlets across the U.S. reporting that school districts and local police stations have been made aware of a dangerous meme on TikTok.
A small sample of the headlines:
- Pennsylvania: Philadelphia-area schools on alert amid TikTok threat for December 17 violence
- Wisconsin: Districts warn of TikTok challenge promoting school violence Friday
- Florida: SWFL schools monitoring TikTok trend threatening school violence
The only problem? We can’t find any primary source for this claim on TikTok. Yes, there are plenty of statements from school districts and police departments. But we have yet to find a single instance—no screenshot, no TikTok, no nothing—of this claim circulating on the social media platform.
News outlets sometimes pointed to the claims of police, like this report from Minnesota, though the “threats” were apparently vague enough that it couldn’t specify anything nor could it even figure out the identity of the poster:
The Morrison County Sheriff’s Office on Thursday said it had also received a report of a social media post that may have identified the Little Falls, Royalton and Pierz school districts. Authorities have not been able to find the post or verify who might have posted it.
Late Thursday, the Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office said there were no “known or identified threats as credible” received in the county, but will have extra patrols in school zones, are in communication with districts and will investigate any threats should they arise.
And TikTok also claims it hasn’t found anything.
“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 company said in a tweet on Thursday.
The closest thing we’ve found is this local TV news reporter in Missouri posting a TikTok video, claiming, “Videos like these warning of school violence are going viral on TikTok.”
But the kid in the video isn’t making a threat and is likely reacting to the local media hype, for all we can tell. The text in the video says “praying for the people who go to school on December 17.” That’s not a threat. That’s just a kid praying for people.
That doesn’t necessarily mean the meme didn’t exist. TikTok is difficult to search, as far as social media platforms go, and it’s entirely possible that TikTok has automatically deleted any offending content and the company’s communications team is just confused about whether its platform found anything. But it seems just as plausible that angry and frustrated kids make extremely vague threats about their school every day and it’s much less a meme than it is a part of life in U.S. society.
Mike Masnick, the founder of TechDirt, wrote a blog post last month about suspicious claims of people inspiring violence on TikTok. But his conclusion was that the hype given to the stories by mainstream news outlets far outweighed the attention any violent memes were getting on the platform. This could very well be a similar situation, assuming this new meme ever existed.
A school district in Missouri has canceled classes today over concerns that this TikTok meme could be real and students might be planning violence, while schools in Tacoma, Washington are going into lockdown. But how real is the threat? Likely no more credible than any other day at an American school. Which, sadly, means people must be vigilant. School shootings are all too common. But December 17 will likely be just like any other day in that regard.