LAKE COUNTY, Fla. - An 11-year-old student at a Florida middle school is potentially facing serious charges after allegedly making a fake bomb threat during class last week - admitting that he was inspired by an apparent trend on TikTok.
According to a Lake County Sheriff's Office arrest affidavit obtained by FOX 35, the boy – a student at Umatilla Middle School – stood up during his second period class and yelled, "There is a bomb on campus."
He was taken to the school's main office and admitted to deputies that "he made the statement because of a TicTok (sic) [TikTok)," according to the report. "[TikTok] has you yell out statements to get points," the report said. He ultimately told deputies, "It was only a joke and there is no bomb."
Still, deputies evacuated the sixth-grade building, gym, and cafeteria to conduct a thorough search, before clearing the building and letting the students return to their classes.
While kids making threats at school is nothing new, what's so concerning now is the speed and scale others on social media promote these behaviors, according to Pamela Wisniewski, a former University of Central Florida professor and now endowed associate professor at Vanderbilt University's Department of Computer Science.
In August, for example, a police department in Kentucky issued a warning to parents after three students made similar fake bomb threats after apparently being inspired by other videos posted to TikTok.
"It's really important that we don't just try to stick our heads in the sand or think that it's going to go away or think that we can completely restrict it altogether," she said.
One of the underlying causes of young people participating in these behaviors, Wisniewski says, is the need for attention and popularity.
"Making sure that underlying need for our kid is met, giving them the sense of belonging they need and the feeling that people like them and care about them, that's the best way for risk prevention," she said.
Additionally, educating children about the dangers and consequences of participating in these online challenges is just as important.
"Just as we talk to our kids about peer pressure for drugs and sex, we need to start doing that in terms of the influences that they may see online," Wisniewski said.
The student in Wednesday's incident was taken to the Lake County Jail for processing before being handed over to the Department of Juvenile Justice.
He was charged with making a false report concerning planting a bomb, an explosive, or a weapon of mass destruction, which is a felony, along with disruption of a school function, which is a misdemeanor.