Social Media Campaign Highlights Consequences of Online Hoaxes

In May, the FBI released its “#ThinkBeforeYouPost” campaign to warn the public that anyone posting school threats and hoaxes online could face federal felony charges with a maximum of five years in prison. FBI Deputy Director said hoax threats disrupt schools, waste law enforcement resources, and put first responders in danger. He also cautioned that young people risk going into adulthood with a felony record over an impulsive social media post.

  • Federal and state agencies are using the “#ThinkBeforeYouPost” social media campaign to highlight that hoaxes squander public safety resources and risk diverting resources away from real threats. According to the FBI, incidents of hoax type threats to schools are rising, with 300 cases so far in 2018, a jump from 124 cases in 2017.

  • In the aftermath of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, officials and educators are taking online threats more seriously, ramping up school safety protocols, and imposing more severe penalties on perpetrators of online threats.

  • In September, two people in Kentucky were sentenced to 21 months and 27 months in prison for creating a fake social media account to make threats against a public school.

  • In April 2017, a South Carolina man was sentenced to a year in federal prison after texting a bomb threat to a Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

FBI’s Social Media Best Practices

  • NEVER post or send any hoax threats online.

  • Notify local law enforcement immediately – and parents and teachers – if you are a victim of an online threat.

  • If you see a threat of violence posted on social media, immediately contact local law enforcement or your local FBI office. The public can also submit a tip to the FBI at tips.fbi.gov.

  • NEVER share or forward an online threat until law enforcement has had a chance to investigate—doing so can spread misinformation and cause unwanted panic.

  • Teachers, parents and guardians: be aware that posting threats and hoaxes online may be a cry for attention or an effort to get revenge or exert control. Talk to your student or child about the proper outlet for stress or emotional distress. Explain the importance of responsible social media use and the consequences of posting hoax threats.

The NTIC is governed by a privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties protection policy to promote conduct that complies with applicable federal, state, and local laws. The NTIC does not seek or retain any information about individuals or organizations solely on the basis of their religious, political or social views or activities; their participation in a particular noncriminal organization or lawful event; or their race, ethnicities, citizenships, places of origin, ages, disabilities, genders, or sexual orientations. No information is gathered or collected by the NTIC in violation of federal or state laws or regulations.