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Sugar House Journal

‘Devious Licks’ TikTok challenges sweep the nation, impacting schools everywhere

Nov 22, 2021 14h20 ● By Lizzie Walie

Dangerous “Devious Licks” trend financially impacts schools across the nation including Salt Lake City School District. (Courtesy Tik Tok)

By Lizzie Walje | [email protected]

Dangerous trends are plaguing schools across the nation as a result of viral videos circulating on social media application TikTok. If you’re unfamiliar with the Chinese-based video sharing platform, TikTok has been around in some capacity since 2016. However, it wasn’t until 2020 that the application exploded in popularity due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Originally, the application was marketed toward children and teenagers. However, following Covid-19’s various quarantines and lockdowns, people of varying ages and demographics found their way to the application looking for entertainment. Currently, the app is home to an audience of 800-million active users and counting.

Many argue that part of what makes the application so addicting is its superior algorithm. Videos are anywhere between one to three minutes, and can be posted by anyone, anywhere, at any time. Once you download the application, it quickly learns your tastes based on the videos you interact with and like. Ergo, children and teenagers are likely to see content from their peers, and in the case of ‘Devious Licks,” these trends are directly targeting a school-aged demographic. 

“Devious Licks” is the name given to a series of challenges that actively encourage students to vandalize their school bathrooms by removing items including sinks, soap dispensers, trash cans and even toilets. The origins of the trend are unknown, but like most viral trends on TikTok, it didn’t take long for millions of views to accompany the most popular videos. Subsequently, the ante was upped as more children hopped on the trend, resulting in more egregious circumstances of theft and vandalism. 

The trend gained peak popularity during mid-September, prompting a TikTok spokesperson to release a statement in response to the backlash. However, the initial statement left many contemplating TikTok’s culpability as the application was quick to denounce central involvement in the trend. TikTok stated, “This alleged ‘challenge’ would violate our policies and we would aggressively remove all content. But the reality is that we have not found related content on our platform, and most people appear to be learning about the offline dare from sources other than TikTok.” Nevertheless, the application has done its part in removing suspicious content according to its users. 

Despite TikTok’s ambiguous attitude toward “Devious Licks” it hasn’t stopped the trend from impacting school’s across the nation, including several in Salt Lake City. Various institutions have started pursuing criminal charges against perpetrators. 

Disgruntled administrators have been forced to play their hand. The responses to “Devious Licks” range from prohibiting bathroom usage entirely, to having staff monitor bathroom entrances during peak traffic times. In schools that have been hit particularly hard, bathrooms have had to shut down completely due to a lack of plumbing and infrastructure. Despite attempts to quell thefts, the trend continues to prosper, forcing many districts to take further action and press criminal charges against students. For many teenagers, the adrenaline rush of going viral is clouding the real repercussions awaiting them. 

The occurrence of such a trend would be inconvenient in the best of circumstances, however, many school districts are still trying to recover from the fiscal impact of Covid-19, including Salt Lake City School District. The district has been transparent about being stretched thin as a result of their ongoing Covid-19 mitigation plan. Cyclical cleaning measures are being taken such as aggressive and ongoing cleaning of common touchpoints, and the continuous usage of airflow mitigation techniques and cleaning agents that are effective but highly expensive. Districts across the country are having to rely on taxpayer dollars to pick up the slack where “Devious Licks” has left destruction.

Following TikTok’s ban of all “Devious Licks” content, it appears the trend has been stifled, however, Salt Lake schools are not yet in the clear. In Superintendent Timothy Gadson’s October newsletter he directly addresses the carnage and fallout from the September thefts. 

“The result was costly for the district and ultimately for taxpayers like you. Unfortunately, it seems this trend of destructive TikTok challenges is continuing, with several similar challenges this month and in the next few months. It is reported that these challenges include smacking a teacher or school staff member, destroying school signs, causing disruptions to cafeterias, and other disruptive and destructive behavior,” he said.  

While some districts are anxiously awaiting to see if these latest trends take flight, it appears that in some schools across the country, challenges such as the disturbing “slap a teacher” already have. In fact, some districts are reporting involvement from children as young as elementary age. It appears that no age group is being spared, as the hunger for virality is causing children to act erratically and impulsively. 

Many superintendents, district officials, and administrators are urging parents to speak candidly with their children about the potential fallout both personally and professionally from engaging in the “Devious Licks” trend. 

Gadson himself seems to agree as he wrote the following in his sentiments regarding the trend: “Parents, please speak with your child(ren) about these actions and their potential harm. Students who are found participating in activities such as the ones mentioned above will face discipline, including possible suspension up to expulsion from school. Police may be involved, and criminal charges will be filed if warranted.”

It appears that in the Salt Lake City School District the patience for the viral trend has waned, particularly as resources and funds run low. The “Devious Licks” trend not only affects the potential futures of children but will see taxpayers footing the bill for the damages that may run in excess of thousands of dollars. These thefts do not exist in a vacuum, and they have real consequences for taxpayers, students and districts at large. 

Gadson ended his remarks by doubling down on the district’s intention to involve the authorities in disciplinary action. The charges students will face if caught have the potential to impact their future professionally and personally. In the meantime, according to Gadson, students should be aware of the potential consequences.

“Reparations for any damage may be required. We ask that you help your child(ren) understand that their actions now can impact their future,” Gadson said.