PRESS EDITORIAL: Vandals of the internet age

“TikTok made me do it.”

That will surely be the defense plea of some students called to account for vandalism and theft at their schools. A nationwide rash of such bad behavior has become a sensation on the video-sharing app named TikTok.

The “Devious Licks” challenge on the social media platform entices students to damage and steal school property and celebrate their offenses in short videos enhanced by the music and visual effects available on the popular app.

A website that keeps track of such things reported that in the last month about 100,000 videos were posted with the hashtag
#deviouslicks. Some involved OzaukeeCounty area schools.

At Port Washington High School, students performing for the videos have stolen locker room shower heads, classroom equipment and supplies; others stuffed plastic lunch trays containing food into sanitary wipe dispensers and clogged toilets with various items, among other  acts of mischief.

 Schools in communities across the country have reported various creative acts of destruction and theft, including students removing toilets and bathroom stalls and, in one case, stealing a teacher’s desk.

The phenomenon puts an internet-era spin on youthful misbehavior that morphs it from what once might have been considered annoying but somewhat amusing manifestations of teenage exuberance into consequential disruption of education at taxpayer expense.

It’s not that today’s middle school and high school students are any naughtier at heart than those of earlier generations. It’s just that the latter had the advantage of living without the likes of TikTok.

The social networking service developed by the Chinese company ByteDance was a successful outlet for videos of amateurs expressing themselves through dance, music and comedy before its power was harnessed for the wave of school mischief. One of the first Devious Licks videos, which portrayed the theft of hand sanitizer, recorded 7.2 million views.

Teen rebellion, of course, predates the internet by eons. It’s likely that some of the first teenagers to walk the earth would occasionally sneak out of their caves to irritate adults with acts of mischief. Modern-day adults might temper their irritation, or anger, over TicTok teen misbehavior by acknowledging that members of their own generations have set terrible examples.

To start with the worst, there was the sacking of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, a fake patriotic rebellion made of premeditated acts of vandalism, theft, desecration and deadly violence that was organized on social media platforms. Like teenagers posting videos of their bathroom vandalism, some of the mature Capitol invaders bragged by displaying videos of their crimes on Facebook and other internet sites.

Other examples of the perversion of the influence of internet to spread malign misinformation, troll, stalk and destroy reputations of individuals and enable fraudulent schemes are too numerous to catalog. In that company, plugging a school toilet loses some of its capacity to outrage.

Still, the Devious Licks fad is a harmful disruption of schools that are trying to establish a semblance of normality in an atmosphere that remains fraught with pandemic dangers. Besides the monetary cost, it stretches schools’ human resources. Already taxed maintenance personnel are diverted to repair, resupply and supervise bathrooms.

Port High administrators are considering shutting down most of the school’s bathrooms and summoning police to deal with offenders.

School districts in many states are working with authorities to prosecute vandals and force parents to make restitution.

If history is any guide, the TikTok craze will lose steam on its own. Participants are a small minority of students, and peer pressure to stop the nasty acting out and showing off will eventually have its effect.

In the meantime, for offenders bad enough to have to face justice, a fit punishment might be confiscation of their smart phones for a week or two.

But then a smart lawyer might argue that is constitutionally unacceptable as cruel and unusual punishment.       


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


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