Schools across Massachusetts increased police presence Friday amid a troubling TikTok challenge that's being investigated .
Dozens of Massachusetts school districts, including Boston, decided Thursday to step up security due to the social media post, which apparently threatened violence at every school across the country.
The FBI's Boston office said Thursday that agents weren't aware of any credible threats to schools in the Bay State, though they encouraged residents to remain vigilant and report suspicious activity immediately.
"The FBI takes all potential threats seriously," an FBI Boston spokesperson said in an email to NBC10 Boston Thursday. "We regularly work with our law enforcement partners to determine the credibility of any threats."
Schools across the country are taking precautions over the latest trend; it did not originate in any school district in Massachusetts. Law enforcement and schools nationwide have reported no actual credible threats, and TikTok has been looking for such content on the platform site and has said that none has been found.
A TikTok representative told CNBC that its employees "share the worry that families and educators across the country are feeling based on media reports that content rumored to be on TikTok could promote school violence. We continue to aggressively search for any such content on our platform, but 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 world harm."
The social media threat seems to have gotten its start on the platform, where various so-called challenges have gone viral, though with varied impacts on real life. The social media company said in a statement that they are working with law enforcement but haven't found any evidence of these threats circulating on their platform.
Nevertheless, parents across Massachusetts received messages from their children's schools Thursday, and Thomas Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, confirmed that various superintendents had been in touch over threats on Thursday.
Many of the schools said that they would be taking precautions, including an increased police presence, despite the lack of any specific threat.
Boston Public Schools sent an email to families Thursday night saying that while there is no evidence the threat is credible, extra security will be added across the district as a precaution. District officials said they have been in contact with the Boston Police Department and are closely monitoring the situation and taking it seriously.
The Dudley and Charlton police departments said they had received reports Wednesday night that there was a Snapchat message circulating among students regarding threats made against the middle schools in those towns.
Dudley police said an investigation showed the threats do not appear to be credible, but rather are a part of the national social media challenge. There will be an increased police presence in all of the Dudley schools as a precaution.
Salem police said they were aware of the nationwide challenge as well, and while there is not a specific threat to the town, there will also be more officers at the district's schools on Friday.
Northborough police similarly said their department was planning on additional staffing Friday to conduct extra school patrols throughout the day. They stressed that these were general threats about school violence, and they do not believe anyone is at risk.
"We want to stress that there is NO CREDIBILITY to these threats, and the law enforcement community believes that these threats were made to instill fear and anxiety within the school community," Northborough police said on Facebook, adding that anyone who becomes aware of any information that they find concerning should report it immediately.
In Attleboro, Superintendent David Sawyer sent a letter to families Thursday night saying the district was aware of the threat to school safety shared on social media that included elementary schools.
Attleboro police confirmed with regional law enforcement agencies that the threat is neither credible nor specific to Attleboro, Sawyer said.
"Nevertheless, we are closely monitoring the situation and taking it seriously," he said.
Anyone who becomes aware of any potential threat is asked to notify authorities right away. School officials also acknowledged that even if the threats are not credible, they can cause a great deal of stress and anxiety for students, families and staff.
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That was a message echoed by child psychologist Ellen Braaten when asked about the effect of such threats on students.
"There are some kids who will take this as a social media challenge and other kids who will respond in very significant ways with depression and anxiety," she said.
To help avoid setbacks, Braaten urged parents to preach consistency: "'We're going to go on with life as usual here at home.' As much as you can make everything the same given this extraordinary circumstance, the better off your child will be."
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Scott, the head of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, noted that the threats come in the context of "an increased amount of vitriol" in society.
"Students are watching the adults and how the adults are behaving and I think that some of this is spilling over into student behavior.”
Security analyst Todd McGhee emphasized that communication between schools and law enforcement remains critical, and that threats must be taken seriously.
"When we see the lack of response, that may embolden any individual that has bad intentions," McGhee said.