Just a day before classes ended for holiday break, Facebook threats caused Plainfield and Danville schools to close on December 17th. As reported by WTHR.com, these online threats were extremely violent and descriptive, which led Plainfield Police Department to open an investigation to find who was making these threats, as well as whether or not they were legitimate.
WTHR.com further reported that the local police patrolled and searched Plainfield and Danville high schools for any weapons or explosive devices the entire day the schools were closed, but did not find any evidence that these weapons existed.
Fox59.com reports that the Plainfield Police Department is being assisted by the Indiana State Police Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and the FBI in the investigation, as the individual(s) making the threats is yet to be identified.
Students of both Danville and Plainfield schools have returned to school today, but fear has continued to grow amongst students and parents. In an attempt to further protect students, Fox59 further reports that there will be extra officers at Plainfield High School and every other school in the district. An email was also sent to parents stating that backpacks will not be allowed in the school until further notice, purses will be searched, and pockets will be emptied before entering the building. Wands will be available to screen students.
Heightened security may help students and staff feel more protected while in school, but it doesn’t keep online threats from happening again.
Online threats are often anonymous and detailed in description, and have the potential to instill fear across an entire district, if not the nation. While an immense amount of online threats never turn into the violent attacks they promise, some do, which is why they must always be investigated and taken seriously.
The “behind the screen” anonymity of posting to the internet makes it an easy avenue for bullying, intimidating language and violent threats. Social media platforms such as Facebook do not have filters in place to keep users from posting violent threats. While users can report harmful posts, the damage is already done once the message has been posted and viewed.
It may be impossible to stop online threats from occurring, however there are ways to help minimize these threats and the damage caused by them.
Responsible digital citizenship needs to be taught early and often to students, both in school and at home. Teaching students safe online practices, and the consequences of not abiding by these practices, can help them begin to understand at a young age how to navigate and use the internet responsibly.
Furthermore, schools can minimize the opportunities for students to make threats while in school by installing filters and blocking dangerous or inappropriate websites. Many schools have blocked social media platforms such as Facebook to keep students engaged in learning, but this can also keep them from bullying online or using social media to making online threats while in school.
Finally, schools need to teach the best practices of how to deal with an online threat once it has occurred. If a student sees something online, they need to report it right away. There are various safety apps now available to students and staff that allow them to easily report a threat to school officials and the police with just the push of a button. Teaching students how to handle threats as well as understanding what technology is available to easily and quickly communicate these threats can help reduce damage and maintain a safe learning environment.
No one has the answer as to how to stop online threats from occurring, but taking every step necessary to educate students about good digital citizenship and how to handle online threats can increase safety and reduce the damage online threats can cause.