FBI Campaign: Think Before You Post
Carlos Amezcua was live with Special Agent Davene Butler to discuss the FBI’s new campaign: Think Before You Post.
In recent months, the FBI and law enforcement around the country have investigated a number of hoax threats of targeted violence against schools and other public places. These threats—often issued via text message or posted on social media—are taken very seriously. Hoax threats are not a joke, and they can have devastating consequences—both for the public and for the perpetrators.
Issuing a threat—even over social media, via text message, or through e-mail—is a federal crime (threatening interstate communications). Those who post or send these threats can receive up to five years in federal prison, or they can face state or local charges.
With a thoughtless remark on social media, young people risk starting out their adult lives in prison and forever being labeled a felon.
“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. “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.”
In addition to consequences for individuals who issue threats, there is also a significant societal cost. Law enforcement agencies have limited resources, and responding to hoax threats diverts officers and costs taxpayers. The threats can also cause severe emotional distress to students, school personnel, and parents.
“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,” said Bowdich.
Here are a few examples of serious threats that the FBI and our partners have investigated:
A young man in Texas used social media and a phone to issue threats against schools in Minnesota. He also called in fake hostage situations, known as “swatting.” He was arrested, pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to more than three years in federal prison. He was 19 at the time of sentencing.
A 21-year-old South Carolina man was sentenced to one year in federal prison after he sent text messages claiming there was a bomb in the parking lot of a Veterans Affairs Medical Center in the state.
An 18-year-old North Carolina man was sentenced to 22 months in federal prison and was ordered to pay restitution after he broadcast himself on the Internet calling in bomb threats to various public places, including schools, colleges, and FBI offices.
What Should I Do?
Don’t ever post or send any hoax threats online…period.
If you are a target of an online threat, alert your local law enforcement immediately.
If you see a threat of violence posted on social media, immediately contact local law enforcement or your local FBI office. Members of the public can always submit a tip to the FBI at tips.fbi.gov.
Notify authorities but don’t share or forward the threat until law enforcement has had a chance to investigate—this can spread misinformation and cause panic.
If you are a parent or family member, know that some young people post these threats online as a cry for attention or as a way to get revenge or exert control. Talk to your child about the proper outlet for their stress or other emotions, and explain the importance of responsible social media use and the consequences of posting hoax threats.
The full FBI press release can be read here and below.
Today, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is announcing a campaign to educate the public on the consequences of posting hoax threats to schools and other public places and reminds communities that these hoax threats are not a joke.
In the aftermath of tragic shootings such as the ones at Santa Fe High School in Texas and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, the FBI and law enforcement around the country often see an increase in threats made to schools and other public forums.
The FBI and our partners follow up on every tip we receive from the public and analyze and investigate all threats to determine their credibility. Federal, state, and local law enforcement then employ a full range of tools to mitigate those threats that are deemed credible. Making false threats drains law enforcement resources and cost taxpayers a lot of money. When an investigation concludes there was a false or hoax threat made to a school or another public place, a federal charge could be considered, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. If a federal charge is not warranted, state charges can be considered.
Public assistance is crucial to our efforts to curb these hoax threats. We ask that the public continue to contact law enforcement to report any potential threats or suspicious activity. If there is any reason to believe the safety of others is at risk, we ask that the public immediately reach out to their local police department by calling 911, or contact the FBI via tips.fbi.gov or over the phone (1-800-CALL-FBI). As always, members of the public can call their nearest FBI field office to report a tip.
Early intervention can prevent a situation from escalating by identifying, assessing, and managing the threat. Remember, if you see something, say something. Hoax threats are not a joke, so think before you post.