Classroom Technology

‘Scary Clowns’ Hysteria, Fueled by Social Media, Force Schools to Adjust

By Evie Blad — October 13, 2016 2 min read
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Cross-posted from the Rules for Engagement blog

Rumors of scary clowns waiting to harm children are anything but funny business to many school officials who have responded to floods of communication from parents concerned about the issue that has swept the nation in recent weeks.

Schools in more than a dozen states have responded to such rumors over the last two weeks, with some even deciding to close in response.

School leaders say much of the hysteria is fueled by hoax threats spread on social media, and few have reported actual clown sightings.

In some cases, those reporting clown sightings to police or school officials are sincere but mistaken in what they’ve seen. And, in others, mischievous youths have contributed to the hysteria by dressing up themselves.

Schools in areas including Puyallup, Wash., and Flomaton, Ala., were recently placed on lockdown as leaders investigated threats of violence that included mentions of clowns. Those threats were later determined to be unsubstantiated.

The apparent social media contagion in many ways mimics a spread of hoax cyber threats made against schools in 2015 that led to the Los Angeles Unified School District’s unusual decision to close for a day.

Many schools responded to the scary clown rumors by issuing statements meant to calm fears and squelch the spread of clown threats online.

“We believe it is very important for you to monitor your child’s social media accounts to make sure that they do not forward messages that have the effect of causing disruption and undue concern,” the Moore, Okla. district wrote in a message to parents.

And some districts, like New Haven, Conn., have responded to children’s fears by banning students from wearing clown costumes on Halloween.

“Unfortunately, clown-themed posturing has been a growing trend throughout the country, particularly on social media ... " the district wrote in a statement to parents. “Until additional information is available, New Haven Public Schools Director of Security Thaddeus Reddish asks that principals and building leaders prohibit clown costumes and any symbols of terror during this Halloween season.”

Photo: A not-so-scary clown --Getty Images

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.