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Threats on social media raise safety concerns in schools

Following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida on Feb. 14, 2018, schools have seen a significant increase in online social media threats. The problem, explained professor Mark Dredze at Johns Hopkins University for the Christian Science Monitor, is differentiating between real threats and hoaxes.

Recently, Loyola Blakefield high school in Towson fell prey to this issue. On Sunday, April 29, threats on a social media website were found and reported to the school. The following Monday morning a statement was sent to the students’ parents, explaining the situation and canceling classes for the day.

The statement did not provide any specific details. The contents of the post and site through which the post was made remain unknown to the public. Robert Robinson, the school’s spokesman, refrained from sharing additional details to avoid compromising the investigation.

The school’s administration has been in contact with the Baltimore County Police Department and together they are evaluating the credibility of the threat. Officer Jennifer Peach of the BCPD commented, “These are serious threats, whether they’re credible or not credible in the end,” in an interview for the Baltimore Sun.

Peach also mentioned that this is not the first time Loyola has closed following threats made by a student. On Thursday, Dec. 14, the school canceled classes due to a derogatory threat with racial malice etched on a bathroom stall. The school once again reached out to the BCPD and initiated the No Hate campaign.

In response to a potential social media threat at UMBC, administration and the campus police department would follow protocol detailed by Gavin de Becker and Associates. According to a description of their services found on their website, “[They] provide consultation and training to schools and universities on advanced concepts of threat assessment.”

Deputy Chief of Police Paul Dillon claimed himself and Detective Chet Smith as the two trained threat assessors in the campus police department. He also detailed some initial steps that might be taken should the situation arise on campus. A search warrant may be obtained for the home of the individual who made the threat and an arrest warrant may be served to the them. Further investigation might include interviewing the perpetrator, a surveillance operation and conducting background research on the individual to determine medical history and past assault charges.

Dillon commented, “If we believed closing the campus was necessary we would do so. The Campus has never closed due to threats on social media, to my knowledge.”