Schools on High Alert Amid 'Shoot Up Your School' TikTok Challenge

Social media platform is slow to censor dangerous content

A high school in Florida / Getty Images
December 17, 2021

Dozens of school districts across the country are on high alert Friday after a "shoot up your school" challenge went viral on TikTok this week.

School officials nationwide are canceling classes and heightening school security after a threatening TikTok trend urged kids to carry out acts of violence at school. Local authorities are working with districts to respond to the threats, which several law enforcement agencies said Thursday were "not credible." The police department of Chester, N.J., for example, wrote in a Facebook post that "there are NO KNOWN THREATS" to the town's schools.

This is the latest TikTok trend that encourages violent acts. Students in several schools vandalized bathrooms and flooded the hallways of their schools after a "vandalism challenge" went viral earlier this semester. Another trend challenged people to attack Orthodox Jews.

Some users questioned how the threat was able to spread on TikTok. Until 2019, the platform, which has close ties to the Chinese Communist Party, heavily censored content critical of Beijing. Videos that contain sexually explicit material are quickly removed from the platform. But other violent content is usually only flagged after public outcry.

In a statement Thursday, TikTok said it was working with law enforcement "even though we have not found evidence of such threats originating or spreading via TikTok." Baltimore County Public Schools said in a statement that local investigators believe the threat originated in Arizona.

Young TikTok users speculated the threat was a ploy to get out of school. Many schools have their final day of class for the year today.

School officials in the Midwest and elsewhere have heightened security concerns following a deadly school shooting at the end of November. Fifteen-year-old Ethan Crumbley shot and killed four of his classmates at Oxford High School, outside of Detroit. Days later, more than 100 schools in Michigan closed after reports of potential "copycat" threats.

Lawmakers have raised concerns about TikTok's close ties to the Chinese government.

A TikTok executive in October refused to tell Congress whether the Chinese government could access American users' data. Earlier that month, TikTok's parent company settled a $92 million lawsuit after it illegally shared user data with third parties. The Federal Trade Commission found that TikTok was illegally harvesting data from children.

Santi Ruiz assisted with this report.