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FBI warns 'Think Before You Post' when making online threats

The FBI says it has seen an increase of hoax threats being made online including people threatening to spread COVID-19 at places like grocery stores.

TEXAS, USA — Being stuck at home, social distancing, or losing your job-it can cause some people to lash out, some taking their war of words to social media.

But keep in mind, if you make a threat to a person or place but don't really mean it, you could be prosecuted by the FBI.

The agency calls it hoax threats.

"We would be looking for the reasoning for the message. If the message is to incite panic or to incite fear with no real method of doing it, with no real knowledge or intent then I would say that's a hoax," said Daniel Ramos, FBI Criminal Branch Assistant Special Agent in Charge.

You may have seen stories of people threatening to spread COVID-19 at places like grocery stores lately, and the FBI says its seeing more of them.

"It's been increases of spreading the COVID-19 disease, kind of to incite panic and trying to get attention through inciting doomsday type of messaging," said Ramos.

So what is the FBI looking for?

"What we look for if the threat is looking to do harm to someone or a place. Things like ‘I'm going to cough into a fruit stand', although they're tasteless posts to say that, it doesn't give as much as a direct threats as saying "I'm going to go to Walmart and shoot them up," Ramos said

So what motivates these hoax threats? Causes can include anger, revenge, being bullied and even inciting fear to make money.

Sometimes it's just a cry for attention, especially for kids stuck at home.

"If you're a parent or family member and know that some of these young people post these threats online, it could be a cry for attention. It could be a way to get revenge on being stuck at home. So talk to your child about the proper outlet for their stress or other emotions and the responsible use of social media," said Ramos.

And with the anniversary of our mass shooting here coming up, they expect more hoax threats.

"Add to that the COVID-19 pandemic and add to that the confinement of people in the homes. I would say it's a breeding ground and we're going to see unprecedented levels of more threats like this,” said Ramos

This is all part of the FBI’s campaign "Think Before You Post".

You may not realize it but if you make a hoax threat you could face jail time.

A fake threat could cost you five years in prison. If someone is hurt it could be up to 20 years, and if someone dies you could spend your life in prison.

The FBI says hoax threats put innocent people in danger as well as the first responders who respond to hoax threats, especially during swatting (making a prank call to send a large number of authorities to a certain place.)

The FBI says if you see a threat say something, and don't share threat posts before contacting authorities as it could incite fear and panic.


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