Why are Philadelphia colleges on alert today?

In the Greater Philadelphia region, the FBI has warned college students to stay vigilant after 'threatened violence.' Could a posting on 4chan be responsible? 

Screen shot of 4chan, an anonymous imageboard website, whose users are known for pranks and hacks.

After the mass shooting at a community college in Oregon, Philadelphia-area colleges are on high alert Monday because of “threatened violence,” according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).  

“Out of an abundance of caution, the FBI Philadelphia Field Office notified local colleges and universities of a social media posting which threatened violence at a Philadelphia-area college or university for Monday, October 5,” the agency said in a statement.

“No specific college or university was identified in the posting. We encourage students, faculty, and employees at area colleges and universities to follow the guidance of their campus security officials. The FBI will continue to work with our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners to investigate threats of violence, and, as always, we ask the public to report suspicious activity to law enforcement.”

Across the Greater Philadelphia region, colleges have disseminated alerts warning students to stay vigilant.

While the FBI has not confirmed where they found the threat, some reports have linked to this posting on 4chan, an anonymous imageboard site. The post says on Monday at 1 p.m. Central Time, “a fellow robot will take up arms against a university near Philadelphia. His cries will be heard, his victims will cower in fear, and the strength of the Union will decay a little more. If you are in that area, you are encouraged to stay at home and watch the news as the chaos unfolds. His sacrifice will echo throughout the nation.”

On Thursday, nine people were killed and nine more were injured after a classmate opened fire in his writing class at the Umpqua Community College campus in Roseburg, Ore. Federal law enforcement also investigated a 4chan thread in relation to the massacre, according to the New York Times.

The day before that rampage, local detectives thwarted a potential massacre at a high school near Yosemite National Park. Three students were arrested and a fourth was detained for plotting to target specific classmates and teachers.  

But some are questioning the legitimacy of the Philadelphia threat. 4chan is known as a bastion of cyber-pranksters, and the site’s users have a long history of wreaking havoc – sometimes in the name of vigilantism. Its users are considered highly influential and tech-savvy, leading some to claim it “controls the Internet.”   

4chan is responsible for the celebrity nude photo leak scandal, the self-harm hashtag #cuttingforBieber, and gaming the Time 100 poll, putting the site's founder, Christopher "moot" Poole, in the top spot.

Recently, the personal contact information for Martin Shkreli, the hedge fund manager who raised the price of a drug by 5,000 percent and became “the most hated man in America,” was posted on 4chan.

And The Washington post called 4chan users’ attempts to convince West Africans that Ebola doctors were worshipping the disease a “cross between a prank, a witless joke and a truly vile strain of racism.”

The site is also credited with spawing the “hacktivist” group Anonymous, which has targeted government agencies and corporations in the name of justice.

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