The FBI rolled out a new public service announcement on Wednesday called “Think Before You Post" in the hope that people stop making hoax threats in the wake of tragedies such as the recent school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas or the shooting in Parkland, Florida.
They offer a stark warning: if you make a hoax threat, you will be prosecuted.
“The Bureau and its law enforcement partners take each threat seriously. We investigate and fully analyze each threat to determine its credibility,” said FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich in a news release. “Hoax threats disrupt school, waste limited law enforcement resources, and put first responders in unnecessary danger. We also don’t want to see a young person start out adulthood with a felony record over an impulsive social media post. It’s not a joke; always think before you post.”
The PSA highlights that it might take a few seconds to write or post the threat - but it can cause years or even a "lifetime of consequences."
The FBI highlighted the potential consequences, citing the case of a 22-year-old Texas man just released from three years in prison for using fake email accounts, Twitter accounts and internet-based phone accounts to make hoax threats in Minnesota, including threatening to kill a police officer and her family. He also threatened to blow up and shoot up a school and engaged in swatting -- calling in fake reports that violent crimes were in progress.
Officials also pointed to a North Carolina man known as "Tyrone" on the internet who, at 18, earned himself two years in prison after recording himself staging bomb threats to colleges and FBI offices around the country in 2008 and 2009.
More recently, officials said, the U.S. Attorney in New Mexico filed charges against two men for allegedly making bomb and school shooting threats on social media. The two men are not connected, however, but represent a pattern after a tragedy, officials said.
“The Department of Justice will investigate and prosecute school shooting threats on social media platforms, which have recently spread like wildfire in the District of New Mexico in the wake of the Parkland shootings and other tragedies, causing fear and concern in our communities,” said U.S. Attorney John Anderson in a news release.
The FBI offers tips such as alerting law enforcement the moment a threat is seen and not to repost or share the threat broadly unless law enforcement is alerted. They also counsel that parents or family members should talk to children about the "proper outlet for their stress or other emotions," as well as explaining how to responsibly use social media.