Laurier sent into lockdown after threats made online

A 22-year-old man in the United Kingdom has been charged after allegedly making threats on the internet forum 4chan which sent Wilfred Laurier University into lockdown on Oct. 16.
Daniel Ransem, 22, has been charged in the U.K. with malicious communications.

Laurier went into lockdown after being alerted by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of the threat. The threat apparently references Laurier’s sciences building.

Students and faculty were asked to stay away from the campus via email.

According to Kevin Crowley, director of communications at Laurier, the university received a call from the FBI around 11:30 p.m. on Oct. 15.

Crowley said Laurier collaborated with the RCMP and Waterloo Regional Police to determine the legitimacy of the threat and decide on the best course of action. The lockdown formally began at six in the morning and lasted until 11:30 a.m. of that day.

Crowley said while most students and faculty were not at the school due to its reading week, some staff had been due to arrive at work on campus by 7 a.m.

According to Crowley, the lockdown was the first one Laurier has seen in the nine years he’s been working there. He said that while the decision to call for a lockdown was not made lightly, the safety of students and faculty was the school’s top priority and authorities felt it was necessary to err on the side of caution.

“Every public institution gets certain threats now and again, and we work with the police to determine how credible they are,” Crowley said. “You can’t shut a university down every time there’s a threat, but you do go through a thorough process with police in determining the seriousness.”

The FBI had told the school that a threat was made on 4chan, similar in style to a post made on the website before the Oregon college shooting that left nine people dead on Oct. 1.

Jenna Jacobson, a social media researcher at the University of Toronto, said determining the validity of online threats can be a difficult task for police and institutions due to the high amount of information found online.

Jacobson said the tendency for people to display their daily life on social media lends itself easily to some users sharing their violent thoughts or actions. She said posting threats online is also popular as it gives users the option to remain anonymous.

However, Jacobson said social media is simply another tool to be used by people, and sending threats has existed throughout history in the form of letters or phone calls.

“What’s important to realize is that the very tool to spread a threat and fear is the same tool that can spread support and vital information,” she said.