TikTok challenges fueling disruptive behavior in schools nationwide

Tech

A teenager presents a smartphone with the logo of Chinese social network Tik Tok, on January 21, 2021 in Nantes, western France. (Photo by LOIC VENANCE / AFP) (Photo by LOIC VENANCE/AFP via Getty Images)

LANCASTER, S.C. (NewsNation Now) — More students are getting in trouble and repeating a similar story: A TikTok challenge made me do it.

In Lancaster County an elementary school student struck a teacher in the back of the head.

“This type of behavior is just like theft and destruction of property. That is not a prank. It’s criminal behavior,” said Lancaster County School District and Transportation Director Bryan Vaughn.

It’s followed a year of questionable viral challenges on the platform. They are not officially sanctioned by TikTok, but they go viral so fast it becomes difficult to reduce their inertia.

The milk crate challenge, where participants made pyramids out of milk crates and tried to walk over them, was a source of injury and the platform vowed to remove all examples of it. Same with the “Devious Licks” trend, where participants, mostly students, would steal petty items or leave messes for others to clean up.

“We’ve seen students ripping soap dispensers off of the walls and throwing them across the bathroom,” Ben Fobert, the principal of Mountain House High School in Mountain House, California, said in a statement provided to NewsNation affiliate KTXL. “We’ve also seen paper towel dispensers completely ripped off of the walls. Students have ripped off the dividers between urinals in the boy’s bathrooms.”

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong sent a letter on Monday to TikTok’s CEO asking about the platform’s intent to curb violent stunts like these from spreading. The Associated Press reports his request comes after New Britain High School temporarily closed last month due to student misbehavior that was attributed in part to the “Devious Licks” challenge.

“With new reports of the “Slap a Teacher” challenge, it is clear that TikTok is unable to control the spread of harmful content.” wrote Tong, noting that TikTok had identified and removed “Devious Licks” content from its platform. “Simply put, whatever TikTok has been doing to enforce its terms of service has not been working and merits serious review and reform.”

The Associated Press did not receive a response from TikTok when asked for comment.

Another South Carolina school fell victim to a challenge last month. Officials at Dawkins Middle School in Spartanburg said the soap dispensers in the seventh-grade boys bathroom were ripped off the wall and thrown in the toilet or stolen.

On Sept. 15, TikTok issued a statement saying it would be removing videos with certain tags.

“We expect our community to create responsibly — online and (in real life),” the statement said. “We’re removing content and redirecting hashtags & search results to our Community Guidelines to discourage such behavior. Please be kind to your schools & teachers.”

Mike Andrews/WJZY, Nexstar Media Wire and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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