Here is something we never thought we’d have to have an opinion on: We are for unplugged toilets.
What got us to this point is concern over a new, destructive TikTok craze that has teens stealing and damaging property at schools.
The online challenge is affecting school districts nationwide, and this week generated headlines in central Vermont, where there was damage done at Harwood Union Middle and High School in Duxbury.
TikTok, the online platform, has become famous for its challenges and trends that offer entertainment, hilarious videos and useful hacks for users. But recently there have been some trends on the rise which see people do reckless things that have received many negative reactions on social media.
This trend sees students steal random things from their schools such as soap dispensers and toilet paper dispensers. Some have even gone so far as to steal whole tiles and sinks, as well as other objects at their schools such as printers and computers.
In one of the early videos on TikTok, a user says that they have stolen a soap dispenser from their school’s bathroom, referring to the item as a “devious lick.” The trend stems from a viral TikTok video shared by user @dtx.2cent. Unzipping his backpack and pulling out a bottle of hand sanitizer, the user captioned the video “only a month into school and got this absolute devious lick.”
The website UrbanDictionary.com defines the slang term “lick” as: “A successful type of theft which results in an acceptable, impressive and rewarding payday for the protagonist.”
And so it goes on social media that the post got attention and spurred many to follow with their own “devious licks.”
TikTok announced Sept. 15 it was removing bathroom challenge content and redirecting hashtags.
In a message on Twitter, the company stated: “We expect our community to create responsibly — online and IRL (in real life). We’re removing content and redirecting hashtags & search results to our Community Guidelines to discourage such behavior. Please be kind to your schools & teachers.”
A quick Google search reveals hundreds of news accounts across the nation of varying levels of vandalism, calls for the behavior to stop, and school districts imposing fines, sanctions and suspensions for those caught taking part in the pranks.
There have also been a handful of arrests in more serious cases, where bathroom stalls were disassembled, or sinks, urinals or toilets were removed, damaged, or plugged up, causing flooding.
Lisa Scagliotti, editor of the Waterbury Roundabout, reported this week on the incidents in Duxbury.
School officials would not disclose the extent of the damage to the school, except to say that the incidents involved vandalism and theft of school property. The Vermont State Police were called in.
“The actions of a few have been received by the majority of Harwood students with sadness and frustration,” school administrators wrote in a statement.
While Harwood administrators used the incidents to provide a positive “teaching moment” for its school community, as it were, other school districts around the country took a much harder line, calling for arrests, creating anonymous tip lines for students, and threatening families of students caught taking part in the expensive and cumbersome trend with restitution.
Social media users have taken to platforms such as Twitter to urge people to stop participating in the trend. Many have complained that some of their school bathrooms have been closed as a result.
There is no question, social media platforms are not going anywhere. In many ways (although the number seems to be dwindling) they can be helpful as a resource and a valued part of our lives.
But as we have seen time and again, it is far too easy to influence, coax or dare people into bad behavior.
It makes us wonder how fad crazy we have become. Are we a society of lemmings raising generations of lemmings? Grab some soap dispensers, and let’s run off this cliff.
Wouldn’t it be novel if challenges focused on random acts of kindness, movements toward civic engagement and community building, or encouraging activism, civil discussions and acts toward progress?
We forget sometimes, inside our little bubbles of life, that social media is huge. It is massive. And it does not take much to reach a tipping point where the consequences are dangerous, disruptive and expensive. We need to be able to see the consequences of actions.
And we all need to do better to make sure pranks like this bathroom challenge don’t get big enough that they can’t be plunged into oblivion.