Editorial: School threats and social media responsibilities: Enough is enough

A recent editorial by the Toledo Blade:

Editorial: Enough is enough

Almost weekly in Ohio and the nation, some nonspecific school threat and an accompanying reaction disrupts education and diverts sorely needed police resources.

It’s happening all over the country, and it’s getting out of hand. Students, parents and teachers can’t go on like this.

Teachers have to be ready to shift on a moment’s notice to a completely different kind of instruction. Students live under a haze of uncertainty about their daily schedule, their peers’ intentions, and their very safety. And parents don’t know when their lives will be turned upside down by a surprise school closure.

One local incident was at Fassett Junior High School in Oregon on Dec. 13.

Around the same time a nationwide trend of hoax school threats proliferated on the video social media site TikTok.

First, schools, law enforcement, and the communities need to do a better job of determining what’s a real threat — and of responding accordingly. If authorities deem a threat to be not credible, then don’t shutdown or lock down as if it were. It is often said that you can’t be too careful, but this isn’t true. Overreacting increases the disruption to the community, including the deployment of limited law enforcement personnel.

And it numbs all of us to the possibility of real dangers.

But at least as importantly, snapping into crisis mode at the drop of a tweet or a TikTok only reinforces the motivations to make the threats. It’s what the hoaxers want to see happen.

School administrators can’t become their students’ marionettes.

It’s no coincidence the national TikTok threat day was Friday: For many students nationwide, it was the last day before winter break, and of final exams — a perfect day to create havoc.

Moreover, companies like TikTok need to be responsible — or be held responsible — for what they allow and encourage on their sites.

Viral threats are part of an algorithm-driven social media ecosystem that entices users, especially young people, to create extreme content to shock and draw attention. If the company won’t shut down viral trends that threaten public safety, a public authority needs to step in.

Somehow, children need to understand hoax threats aren’t childish pranks: They disrupt entire communities and make it much harder to identify and take seriously actual dangers to schools.

But the adults also need to be responsible. Schools can smother the enthusiasm for reckless hoaxes by refusing to overreact to them, and social media sites can smother the threats themselves by refusing to publish and spread them.

We don’t have to live under the constant threat of threats. But if we don’t change course, this will only get worse. And our children, our families and our schools can’t afford that.

— Toledo Blade, Dec. 18