Local school districts, police aware of unfounded TikTok threat

Schools across the East End — and the country — are seeing a heightened police presence after a social media threat deemed not credible went viral Thursday.

A TikTok post warned about school shooting and bomb threats and other violence for “every school” in the country Friday.

The post was spread rapidly on TikTok and other social media, causing concern in many communities.

In a message to parents Thursday, Riverhead superintendent Augustine Tornatore said the district was aware of the “unspecified” social media threat.

He emphasized that the district has not received any specific threat, but has been in contact with both the Riverhead and Southampton Town police departments, who are aware of the national issue.

“Our district, in partnership with local law enforcement, will remain extra vigilant in all our safety efforts tomorrow as well as in the days, weeks and months to come,” Dr. Tornatore wrote.

At a Board of Education meeting Thursday, Mattituck-Cutchogue superintendent Shawn Petretti said school administrators on the East End have been in contact with each other regarding the unfounded threats.

The district sent out a letter and robocall Thursday evening to families to provide an alert.

“We don’t want people to get unnecessarily anxious or nervous about an attack when it’s just a viral TikTok thing that’s going out there looking to cause a disruption,” Mr. Petretti said.

Greenport Superintendent Marlon Small similarly said the district was aware of the “non-credible” social media threats in a message posted to the district website Thursday. The Southold Town and Suffolk County police departments are aware, he said. 

The district plans to conduct a lockdown drill on Friday, unrelated to the threats, he said. Administrators requested Southold police presence on campus during the drill, “out of an abundance of caution,” and the school resource officer will be on hand. 

In Southold, superintendent Anthony Mauro said Friday morning that the school resource officer will also be on campus throughout the day.

The Suffolk County Police Department characterized the threat as unverified.

Many of the videos on TikTok included hashtags like #december17th, #staysafe, #Schoolshootings, #bombthreats, #skipschool. Police officials noted that some posting the messages indicated that they believe it may be a hoax, but were sharing the information anyway.

“Unfortunately, the repeated re-posting of these threats in local group chats can give the perception that this is a local threat,” an alert published by the Suffolk County Crime Analysis Center reads. “There is no indication that this threat has any connection to Suffolk County. It is important to consider the impacts of reposting these types of images without properly vetting their origin or authenticity.”

In a tweet posted by their communication department Thursday night, TikTok wrote: “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.”

According to the SCPD alert, officers have responded to middle schools in North Amityville and Brentwood to investigate similar TikTok videos, which were determined to be part of the social media threats circulating and thus not credible.

For many district officials, the viral threats served as a reminder to have discussions about social media.

“I encourage our families to speak with their children about the proper use of social media and not sharing images/postings on various platforms that have not been properly vetted,” Dr. Tornatore said.

Instead, the superintendent said any concerning information should be reported to the school district, police or a trusted adult immediately.

“The district will fully investigate all reports made and no piece of information is too small,” he said.