Smartphone apps, Internet phone services and social media are becoming increasingly popular ways to send in anonymous bomb threats or other threats of violence to schools, causing evacuations and police response.
While the majority of these threats turn out to be hoaxes, the use of modern technology is making it increasingly difficult to determine whether or not the threat is real and to find the person responsible.
One such instance saw a 16-year-old student at Gateway High School in Kissimmee, Florida being arrested last week after posting a bomb threat on Twitter. According to the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office, the incident occurred because “she was angry and did not want to go to school.”
School safety experts have reported an increase in cases like that one. Figures from the National Center for Education show 5,700 incidents for the 2009-2010 school year, the latest year available.
And the incidents are not simply occurring within school walls or even the same neighborhood.
Lakota Middle School in Federal Way, Washington was placed on lockdown last year and received help from the police after an email was sent, supposedly from the Islamic State group, asking for ransom money and threatening to “shoot and kill” every American. In the end, a 14-year-old girl took responsibility for the email, telling police it had been sent by her online friend “Ryan.” She had told him to “swat” her school because she thought it would be funny.
“Swatting” involves issuing a threat that would bring in a SWAT team as a response.
Motivations for the threats are the same as they were when bomb threats had been called in using a payphone. Those found to be false are typically made from students looking to avoid a test, get revenge, or just showing off for friends. Captain Mark Bennett for the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department said the motivation for “swatting” appears to be thrill-seeking.
Students are not only learning how to pull off the threats through the use of the Internet, but also with the help of apps such as Burnbook, Afterschool, Yik Yak, Whisper, and Kik.
Superintendent Timothy Stein of the Flushing Community Schools in Michigan wrote a letter to parents last December notifying them of a posting found on Afterschool that said “Bringing a Gun to School.” The principal was notified of the posting through a text message and then passed the message along to the police, who were able to quickly determine that the threat was not credible.
“I encourage you to ask you child to stop using this app and remove it from their phone,” Stein said.
Despite the high volume of incredible threats, every one must be taken seriously.