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Recent TikTok Challenge; Who's to Blame: TikTok or the Participants?

Recently, there has been a trend going around schools across the United States causing kids to vandalize their school’s bathrooms, with participation of students ranging from elementary to high school. This “trend” originates from TikTok, a current popular social media app, as a challenge for its viewers. The challenge is for students to film themselves on TikTok stealing and vandalizing items in public, specifically their school bathrooms. The challenge is presented under the hashtag, #deviouslicks, and students have been participating in this challenge everywhere, even at Bella Vista Highschool. Soap dispensers have been reported missing, paper towels, and even a mirror was recently reported missing in one of the girls' bathrooms here at Bella Vista. Although we are not sure if this missing mirror is a direct result of the surge of vandalism, it would not be a surprising result. Vandalism, other than stealing, has been reported as well. For example, paper towels have been seen thrown around the restroom and stalls, soap on the walls, etc. This has led to a displeasing and sometimes unusable environment in our restrooms. Students who are not participating in this challenge, as well as staff, are receiving the consequences of some students' actions because most people do not enjoy walking into a disarrayed and nearly unusable restroom. This challenge has caused much stress for many school admins and janitors, which has resulted in harsher surveillance of students in some schools, like a local K-8 where younger students are being walked to the restrooms by teaching assistants. Bay area schools have also had to shut down restrooms due to the vandalism, which has left many students upset, and parents concerned about how the students would wash their hands in a time that it is most needed.

From a National Public Radio article on the topic, Jacqueline Nesi, an assistant professor at Brown University who studies adolescents and social media, claims that teenagers are more probable to engage in “risky behaviors” for social approval. "The goal is not to have the thing that you've stolen from the school. I think the goal is really to have what seems like approval of your peers online, and that's a really powerful incentive for teens," she states. Nesi believes this challenge to be a common fad that tends to come and go.

TikTok was created by a company called ByteDance, a company which relies heavily on artificial intelligence that has been recently valued at $140 billion. On ByteDance’s website it states that, “ByteDance’s content platforms enable people to enjoy content powered by AI technology.” TikTok’s algorithm is created by this powerful AI, which constantly feeds upon what you watch and do on the app. It then creates an infinite list of videos all relating to your interests, called the “For You” page, making it impossible to just watch one video at a time. Because of this addictive aspect to the app, could it be causing teens to feel like they are missing out on things, especially on social media? And because of this “fear of missing out,” could it cause them to act irrationally and maybe participate in challenges like #deviouslicks? TikTok, and it’s parent company ByteDance, influence teenagers on the app to participate in these challenges, which in turn, the company benefits off of and increases their ever-growing company and revenue. The “fear of missing out” that teens feel today on social media, keeps the company alive.

TikTok itself has responded to this challenge by removing content related to the hashtag, which in turn redirected its results to the community standards. A TikTok spokesperson came out and reported, "We expect our community to stay safe and create responsibly, and we do not allow content that promotes or enables criminal activities.” Even though TikTok stated that they removed content under the “devious licks” hashtag, videos were still easy to be found and were continued to be posted of students vandalizing the restrooms. This can give TikTok an image of not really caring about what these students are posting on the app, more just about trying to cover it up, and continuing to be in demand.

The surge of vandalism started early-to-mid September and has now started to slow down. Reports of disorder in the restrooms have begun to decrease and schools have been able to come back to a somewhat normal supervision. Teachers and administrators have still kept a close eye on students and every now and then mirrors or other things have been reported missing.

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