This story is the latest installment in our YouTube series, "What's Brewing,” investigative reporter Jenna Bourne's series of homemade deep dives into important issues during the coronavirus pandemic. Click here to check out the series and subscribe to our YouTube channel: The Deeper Dive.
A viral TikTok challenge encourages students to steal and break things in their school bathrooms.
Olivia Fisher is over it.
“There’s been extreme amounts of vandalism, extreme amounts of stealing,” said Olivia, a sophomore at Weeki Wachee High School.
She says soap dispensers and paper towel dispensers have disappeared all over campus – not ideal during a pandemic.
“It’s very frustrating, genuinely. It’s, you know, many of my friends have told me they had to walk across the campus just to find soap so that they can wash their hands,” Olivia explained.
Some TikTok users are identifying this challenge with the hashtag “devious lick” or “devious licks.”
“This is kind of the lingo, the slang of young people. A ‘lick’ is when you steal something. And maybe it’s something that’s a little bit small in scale,” said Kelli Burns, Ph.D., an associate professor at the University of South Florida’s Zimmerman School of Advertising and Mass Communication.
At least seven school districts in the Tampa Bay area tell 10 Tampa Bay they’ve been dealing with vandalism, mostly in school bathrooms, because of this challenge: Citrus, Hernando, Highlands, Hillsborough, Pasco, and Sarasota Counties.
Pasco County tells us it’s happened at all of their high schools and some of their middle schools.
It’s affecting students like Olivia who want nothing to do with these challenges.
“They’re even saying that if we don’t stop doing all this stuff, that they’re going to take our homecoming away. And that’s one of, like, the hugest things that everyone’s looking forward to because we didn’t have a homecoming last year,” said Olivia.
Crime and Consequences:
The consequences can be even more serious.
Multiple students in the Tampa Bay area have been criminally charged.
Photos from Bartow police show two hand soap dispensers torn off the wall at Bartow High School.
Police recorded a video off a student’s phone showing a stolen hand soap dispenser in a student’s backpack.
That 15-year-old was arrested for criminal mischief and theft.
And because this “devious licks” challenge was so widespread, schools and teachers’ unions have been putting out warnings about a new challenge.
“We have heard about the TikTok challenge of slapping a teacher,” said Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association President Rob Kriete.
Leaders at multiple teachers’ unions tell 10 Tampa Bay they’ve been having a hard time reaching TikTok about their concerns.
Kriete said he doesn’t believe TikTok is doing enough to stop destructive challenges from spreading in schools.
“’Complicit’ is really the word I would use. I mean, how are we not pulling these off the internet?” said Kriete.
TikTok weighs in:
TikTok got right back to 10 Tampa Bay, with an emailed statement:
"We expect our community to stay safe and create responsibly, and we do not allow content that promotes or enables criminal activities. We are removing this content and redirecting hashtags and search results to our Community Guidelines to discourage such behavior."
A TikTok spokesperson also sent these resources:
Burns said removing the content may not be enough to discourage students from participating in these challenges.
“I think they could also go a step farther than that and that would be to ban users. And so, I think that this could be a deterrent, especially for people with large followings, they don’t want to lose all those followers,” said Burns.
She said TikTok may be reluctant to kick users off the platform.
“If they crack down too hard, there may be another platform that rises up that – I mean, we haven’t had TikTok that long. And so, who’s the say that there couldn’t be another platform that comes on the scene that attracts all these users and says, hey, you can post your banned TikTok content here?” said Burns.
TikTok is protected from legal liability by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which doesn’t hold social media or other sites responsible for content posted by its users – as long as they don’t violate federal criminal laws, like sexually exploiting children.
“Section 230, which generally would shield a platform from the harm caused by its users, would certainly apply in this situation,” said the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Civil Liberties Director David Greene. “Section 230 applies to all attempts to impose liability on someone in U.S. courts, so it doesn’t really matter what the citizenship of the defendant is. But my understanding is that TikTok that operates in the U.S. is actually operated by a U.S. company, even though its ultimate parent company is not.”
Greene said there are more effective ways to hold TikTok accountable than taking them to court.
“There could be methods for social accountability, in terms of pressuring the company. These companies get a ton of requests to take things down,” said Greene. “And people should be encouraged to hold them accountable that way rather than through the courts, which will be much more difficult.”
That’s exactly what Olivia says she’s already doing.
“I have reported at least 10 in the last two weeks, which is an insane amount of vandalizing TikToks,” said Olivia. “With the people I’m friends with and the people I follow, every video or so, you see something like that. And you just click the report button and you’re done.”
A Positive Response:
Some students in Highlands County are participating in a new, positive challenge to show appreciation for their school staff.
Sebring Middle School Students are doing a twist on “devious licks” called “devious sips,” where they bring school staff members their favorite drinks and snacks.
Sebring Middle teacher Courtney Germaine said she mentioned the “devious sips” trend to 7th grade students at lunch and, the next day, the “sips” started rolling in.
“I believe that if we give our students a chance to be a part of something positive, they will take that opportunity - everyone likes to be recognized for doing something kind,” said Germaine.
The school has been showcasing photos of some of those students on its Facebooks page. You can see some examples below.
Students show kindness
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