Yale Daily News

A destructive and popular TikTok trend called “Devious Licks” has led to broken toilets, damaged sinks and stolen soap dispensers in Connecticut public schools over the past month.

The “Devious Licks” challenge — which went viral last month and has since been banned by the app — encourages students to damage school equipment and post footage on TikTok. Also known as “Diabolical Licks” or “Dastardly Licks,” the trend has appeared in high schools across the country. Captioning their videos with the hashtag #devious, students have recorded themselves stealing anything from paper towel dispensers to Smartboards, racking up millions of likes in the process. The trend, which has resulted in costly damages and significant disruption within both New Haven Public Schools and New Britain High School, has local officials calling upon TikTok to take more responsibility for the issue.

I need to make it clear that New Haven Public Schools has as its number one priority the safety of all the learning community,” NHPS Superintendent Iline Tracey wrote. “We will not tolerate vandalism … or assault on students and staff, and will be swift with consequences including expulsion from the school.”

Tracey wrote in the letter that within the NHPS system, the challenge has led students to vandalize bathroom sinks, soap dispensers and toilets.

Beyond the “Devious Licks” trend, Tracey also warned district families about the “Slap a Teacher” TikTok trend, which encourages students to physically assault their teachers. She urged parents to have a conversation about the harmful videos circulating on TikTok with their students and encourage them to take the issue seriously.

In the letter, Tracey did not specify whether the “Slap a Teacher” trend had made its way into NHPS. Tracey could not be reached by the News. 

With regards to consequences, Tracey made it clear that culprits could be expelled if the behavior continues, emphasizing the school’s zero-tolerance attitude towards vandalism. Since her message to the community, instances of vandalism have been resolved, a NHPS official said.

“Any issues to date have been managed successfully by the schools without their seeking assistance from the district,” district spokesperson Justin Harmon told the News in an email.

Other Connecticut school districts have taken different approaches to address the challenge. For example, New Britain High School in Hartford was forced to temporarily close last month as a result of student misbehavior inspired by the “Devious Licks” challenge. New Britain students eventually returned to in-person learning after the Connecticut State Department of Education told the school to reopen, but the issue remains far from over, Connecticut Attorney General William Tong said.

Similar to NHPS, New Britain had also grappled with stolen school property, clogged toilets and excessive vandalism. The “Slap a Teacher” trend was also viral last month within the district, putting staff at risk.

In response to these trends, Tiktok has taken steps to address harmful content on the app. Business Insider reported in mid-September that “Devious Licks” had been banned from the platform.

“We expect our community to stay safe and create responsibly, and we do not allow content that promotes or enables criminal activities,” a TikTok spokesperson wrote to Business Insider. “We are removing this content and redirecting hashtags and search results to our Community Guidelines to discourage such behavior.”

Leading up to TikTok’s announcement, the trend had led to arrests throughout the country. At one Louisiana high school, an 18-year-old student was arrested after allegedly attacking a 64-year-old disabled teacher. At Round Rock Independent School District in Texas, damage costs from “Devious Licks” are estimated to be more than $15,000.

Despite the ban, however, Connecticut officials remain concerned. After the closing of New Britain High School, Tong requested a meeting with TikTok leadership to discuss the harmful effects of the app. 

“The last thing anyone needs right now is for children to be inundated by targeted social media encouraging lawlessness, self-harm and reckless, dangerous pranks,” Tong wrote in a letter to TikTok executives.

The request for a meeting was granted, and the two parties met last Wednesday. According to Tong, the TikTok spokesperson explained that the platform monitors user content primarily through two methods.

“Their content moderation program … includes both programmatic systems to identify harmful content, and a human review component, where they claim to have thousands of people viewing videos that could be problematic,” Tong said.

During the meeting with TikTok leadership, Tong also expressed his concerns about the destruction at New Britain High School. He said that it is TikTok’s sole responsibility to address the detrimental effects of the platform on high school students across the country.

“[It’s] really on Tiktok, it’s not the state of Connecticut’s responsibility,” Tong said. “I don’t know how to program social media.” 

TikTok has more than 130 million monthly active users in the United States.