October is "Smack a staff member on the backside" month, according to an ongoing TikTok challenge.
Schools across the country are warning teachers and parents that the so-called "Devious Licks" challenge is about to enter a new — and even more sinister — stage.
September's challenge, which dared students to vandalize school bathrooms, made headlines after it went well beyond throwing wet toilet tissue on the ceiling. Mirrors were smashed, soap and paper towel dispensers were torn off walls, ceiling tiles and stall doors were pulled down, and entire sinks were even stolen.
Many schools were forced to close down the bathrooms after suffering thousands of dollars worth of damage. At one Florida high school, at least nine pupils were arrested and charged with vandalism.
But now that October has arrived, anyone partaking in the Devious Licks Challenge could be facing far more serious charges: assault and/or sexual assault.
While the list started innocuous enough with August daring TikTokers to "sleep in and be late," the full list shows subsequent months straying into criminal behavior, including January's "jab a breast" request and December's challenge to expose your genitalia at school.
November's "Kiss your friends' girlfriend at school" is unlikely to go down smoothly, either:
[PARENTS & TEACHERS BEWARE] We’ve been talking a lot about this "devious lick" challenge from TikTok where students are destroying school bathrooms. Now, we are seeing each month’s challenge. This list is being shared by teachers trying to raise awareness. @wcncpic.twitter.com/tTvuMGWGA2
But it is October's slap-a-teacher dare that has school authorities worried. However, according to law enforcement, it is the would-be participants who should really be concerned. "Most of em that are on that list are criminal offenses," Florida's Bay County District Police Chief Mike Jones told WJHG.
"We're going to have to make charges on those kinds of things," Sheriff Tommy Ford agreed. "It's not funny and if we don't set that standard then things get out of control."
He said that touching or striking another person could normally land a person with a misdemeanor charge; "However, when you're dealing with a school employee, there's a specific statute that makes that a felony."
While police do not want to start throwing students in prison, they warn perpetrators will have to be made an example of if the trend threatens to spread virally — just as September's did.
Up in Illinois, Professor Brian Uzzi of the Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management said TikTok was responsible for shutting the trend down.
"This is criminal behavior. Vandalism is criminal behavior. Touching another human being inappropriately is criminal behavior. Using fire extinguishers in the middle of a class for a joke is criminal behavior," he told CBS. "So I think TikTok really needs to be much more forceful and needs to shut this down as fast as possible."
TikTok appears to have at least shut down the search term "Devious Licks"; searching for it on the app yields zero results, and the message "This phrase may be associated with behavior or content that violates our guidelines. Promoting a safe and positive experience is TikTok's top priority" pops up in place of results.
However these steps are usually quickly sidestepped with alternative spellings or hashtags (just search #dispicablelicks on TikTok, for example).
Uzzi agrees the minimal measures taken so far by the company are not enough.
"It’s like trying to get like a herd of buffalo to stop because you're telling them, 'Please don't do this,'" he said. He added that generally, under U.S. law, it is illegal for a company to profit off criminal activity, which raises the question: is TikTok complicit?
A spokesperson for TikTok told TooFab: "We are hearing of offline teen dares being suggested as future ‘TikTok challenges’ and want to be crystal clear: dangerous challenges and illegal behavior are not allowed on our platform and will be removed. We expect teens to use common courtesy both online and IRL, and we're committed to helping support messages about being good digital stewards."
The company points to its TikTok Guide For Parents (which explains how the app and its safety tools work); its Guardian's Guide (which assist parents to review and adjust their teenagers' privacy settings, and help them report any inappropriate behavior); its Youth Portal (which helps teens learn about digital safety) and its Family Pairing feature (which lets parents or guardians link their TikTok account to their teen's to control content and privacy settings).
Regarding Devious Licks, the company said it does 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," it said.