For much of September, the “devious licks” TikTok challenge drove young people to rip soap dispensers off bathroom walls, steal random classroom items and even remove entire toilets from their stalls.
Some students have been criminally charged for partaking in the challenge, and TikTok has attempted to scrub videos and hashtags associated with the trend from its platform.
But now, officials say they’re concerned about another trend - “slap a teacher” - after an elementary student in Lancaster County, S.C., struck a teacher’s head from behind, according to the school district.
“This type of behavior just like theft and destruction of property is not a prank,” a district official said on Friday. “It’s criminal behavior.”
In Springfield, Mo., another teacher was slapped as part of the challenge, KYTV reported Tuesday.
Three days after the Lancaster County School District reminded students that they could be expelled for assaulting teachers and staff members, a politician in another state blamed TikTok for allowing the dangerous trends to emerge and spread on its platform.
“TikTok fails to control the spread of dangerous content,” Connecticut Attorney General William Tong (D) said in a tweet on Monday. “I am urging TikTok to come to CT to meet with educators and parents and commit to reforms that stop this reckless content.”
TikTok did not immediately respond to emailed questions from The Washington Post early Wednesday.
The latest challenge encouraging violence against teachers coincides with a federal push to investigate threats educators are facing on the job. Attorney General Merrick Garland ordered the FBI on Monday to address a spike in harassment, intimidation and threats against teachers and school board members over highly politicized issues, such as mask mandates and interpretations of critical race theory, The Post reported Tuesday.
Internet challenges are not limited to TikTok. Before the video app exploded in popularity over the past several years, young people recorded themselves wandering outside of their homes blindfolded, swallowing laundry detergent pods and lighting themselves on fire, all for social media clout.
But TikTok, now one of the most used and downloaded apps with about 1 billion monthly active users, has become home to some of the most viral — and dangerous — challenges. Multiple children have died this year after attempting the “blackout challenge,” in which participants strangle themselves. A 15-year-old girl died in August 2020 after taking an excessive amount of over-the-counter allergy medicine in the “Benadryl challenge.”
The company has worked to take down videos and block hashtags associated with dangerous challenges.
But in his letter to the company this week, the Connecticut attorney general said it is not doing enough.
“Simply put, whatever TikTok has been doing to enforce its terms of service has not been working and merits serious reform,” Tong wrote in an Oct. 4 letter addressed to Shou Zi Chew, TikTok’s chief executive.
Tong noted that New Britain High School in central Connecticut temporarily closed last month “due to unprecedented vandalism and behavior challenges, which school leaders attributed in part to the viral ‘Devious Licks’ TikTok challenge.” As many as 70 New Britain High School students faced discipline for vandalism and fighting, WFSB reported.
Schools around the country are warning students that such behavior is criminal, and teachers remain on edge.
“Educators beware!” the California Teachers Association wrote in a Facebook post on Tuesday. “As if widespread vandalism in our schools last month wasn’t enough, the same ‘challenge’ circulating on social media networks TikTok and Twitter is now calling for students to ‘slap a staff member.’”
“Slapping an educator, regardless of whether it results in injury, is assault and battery, and is completely unacceptable,” the union added.