‘Devious licks’ TikTok challenge has students vandalising school bathrooms

School officials across the US have expressed alarm over instances of vandalism inspired by a viral TikTok challenge known as “devious licks”.

Incidents often posted to the video-sharing platform have included students smashing up bathroom mirrors and sinks and stealing soap dispensers and even turf from sports fields at rival schools.

A spokesperson for TikTok said the platform was removing such content – named for a slang term for theft – and redirecting hashtags and search results to guidelines discouraging destructive behavior.

Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, most US students are in school full-time for the first time in a year and a half. Some schools are taking measures to more closely monitor or even shut down bathrooms, while attempting to cope with Covid-19 public health requirements.

At Lawrence high school in north-east Kansas, officials said several bathrooms had to be sealed off after students prised soap dispensers from walls. Students then tried to steal “closed” signs, so staff were posted to guard bathrooms, reported Cuyler Dunn, 17, who described the student effort as one of “total destruction”.

“The general vibe around the student body is that this is just another one of those funny things that high schoolers do,” Dunn told the Associated Press. “But it has started to reach a point where it is starting to get in the way of things.”

In Bartow, in central Florida, police said they had arrested a 15-year-old student who tore a soap dispenser from its fixtures and left it in a sink.

“He said he did it because of this TikTok challenge and he wanted to be cool,” police chief Bryan Dorman said.

In Virginia, Fairfax county public schools spokesperson Kathleen Miller said officials were aware of several incidents of property damage and that “disciplinary action has and will be taken”.

TikTok said it did not permit content that “promotes or enables criminal activities”.

“We expect our community to create responsibly – online and IRL” it said, aggiungendo: “Please be kind to your schools and teachers.”

The “devious licks” craze is not the first time schools have had to cope with pranks that spread faster than teachers, wardens and janitors can react. A previous TikTok-promulgated prank involved a challenge to climb stacks of milk crates. Authorities warned it could lead to serious injury.

Attempts to curb “devious licks” vandalism include warning parents that students face being suspended and could be forced to make restitution or be reported to police.

School authorities have also warned that self-incriminating videos posted on TikTok could hurt students’ job prospects in future.

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