A Cork school has made a report to gardaí about a string of completely false claims regarding a student identifying as a cat, describing the WhatsApp message as "without foundation".
The message, which has been widely circulated, contains audio in which a man makes a number of claims, primarily that a student had identified as a cat, had requested a litter tray, that a teacher had then been suspended due to a verbal interaction with the student and that the school was being sued by the student's parents.
Skibbereen Community School took the unusual step of sending a message to parents on Thursday regarding the false claims and on Friday, principal Anton O'Mahony confirmed the matter had been reported to gardaí.
"We have been made aware that this WhatsApp message is circulating and that we can state that this message is without foundation and that no element of it is true and that the appropriate authorities have been informed," Mr O'Mahony said.
The school has approximately 900 students and found itself at the centre of the baseless claims this week.
While the school did not make any further comment, it is understood that management are concerned about the impact of the false claims on both students and on staff.
Ciaran O'Connor, an expert on disinformation and extremism with the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue, said similarly baseless claims had already surfaced in both the United States of America and Australia.
"The nature of an audio viral message like that means that they are almost impossible to verify without knowing where it came from or who posted it or the intention of who posted it," he said.
Mr O'Connor said that someone may have heard of the other false stories from other countries and "maybe put a local spin on it", or they may have had the "direct intent" of creating the false claim for the purpose of "fear-mongering over gender non-conformity".
"When Joe Rogan mentioned this claim on his podcast — which he later admitted was false — he also included that line about a student wanting a litter box," he said.
"Hearing it here too would suggest to me that, whoever started the rumour and for whatever reasons, they probably heard it somewhere else online and applied it to a local place."
The matter has now been reported to gardaí and Mr O’Connor said such situations may prove to be a new challenge for schools, with false claims potentially creating a climate of hostility and mockery.