'Devious licks' TikTok challenge has students vandalizing school bathrooms

Tuesday, September 21, 2021
'Devious licks' TikTok challenge has students vandalizing bathrooms
Students following the "devious licks" trend on TikTok vandalize their school bathrooms, stealing anything from a soap dispenser to a urinal.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- A viral trend as puzzling in name as it is in action, "devious licks," started as a hashtag on TikTok. It has left schools tasked with fixing an issue not exactly missed while distance learning: pranks.

Students following the trend vandalize their school bathrooms, stealing anything from a soap dispenser to a urinal.

"It's sort of disgusting to be honest. Stealing dirty things out of a bathroom is about the lowest you can go," said USC Annenberg professor Karen North, talking about what kind of joy students find in this type of trend. "I think it's about the fact that there's privacy in the bathroom. So the theft can happen and then it's basically the video of showing that you accomplished this great feat."

"Devious licks," licks meaning theft, has traveled to school bathrooms around the country, forcing the districts to react.

A video from Pioneer High School in Whittier shows a student walking out of a bathroom with someone who she describes as a security guard, standing outside. She explained to ABC7 that students now have to leave their backpacks outside the restroom, next to a school employee, and only four students are allowed inside at a time. Some teachers, she says, require students leave their cellphones in the classroom.

As for TikTok's role in stopping certain trends, North feels conflicted.

"I've been pondering TikTok's responsibility in all of this," said North. "And you know, it's very muddy."

TikTok sets its own rules, and recently made it harder to find these viral videos. Searching "devious licks" comes up empty, explaining that the phrase might be associated with content that violates its guidelines.

"Tiktok is seeing themselves as at least responsible for signaling people what's right and wrong here," said North.

Outside of TikTok, vandalism isn't just wrong. It's illegal.

"And they forget that they are actually doing something in the world that might have real consequences," said North.

Consequences more likely to be enforced when they are, after all, being filmed.

"If you commit vandalism and you post it on TikTok, you've basically posted all of the evidence that anybody needs to, you know accuse, you of the crime," said North.

ABC7 reached out to the Whittier Union High School District but hasn't heard back. Certain other districts around Southern California send letters out to parents reminding them that vandalism is not a victimless crime, and it won't be tolerated.