Viral trend hits school bathrooms in East Lyme and Norwich
East Lyme — A social media trend that began with students posting videos of random items stolen from school has escalated to acts of bathroom vandalism being decried in the halls of academia and now Congress.
The trend, popularized on the video sharing platform TikTok, is accompanied by various versions of the hashtag "Devious Licks."
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal stood in front of the state Capitol Monday demanding that TikTok do more to prevent, detect and ban the videos that he says glorify theft and property destruction. He also called on the company to come before a congressional hearing of the consumer protection, product safety, and data security subcommittee on which he serves as chairman.
"The viral videos depict as heroes the students who are stealing mirrors, trashing soap dispensers and towels, [and] stealing stalls," he said.
A lick is a term in popular culture for stealing something and getting away with it. TikTok users have taken it as a challenge to get away with the most devious — otherwise referred to as "diabolical" and "dastardly" — acts of thievery they can come up with.
According to East Lyme High School head custodian Michael Hewitt, a student or students attempted to remove a urinal from one of the school bathrooms.
He said they weren't able to pull it off, but they did break the flush valve and dislodge a standpipe so that water would spray all over whoever tried to flush it.
He put the dollar amount of the damage at $15 for a new fitting known as a "spud."
Students have been pulling paper towel dispensers and soap dispensers off the wall since last week, he said, with some of the soap dispensers ending up in toilets.
A second-floor bathroom at one point last week got clogged to the point of backing up into the bathrooms below and spilling out of the first-floor toilets, according to the custodian.
"It became what I called a crap show, literally," he said. "There goes the neighborhood."
Hewitt on Monday morning said he'd just gone through the six student bathrooms, where he had to put a bunch of paper towel dispensers back together. He said he planned to check all the bathrooms every half hour for damage in the absence of bathroom monitors to alert him to problems.
Video broadcast to East Lyme High School students last week starting Thursday as part of the daily morning show included a message from assistant high school principal Henry Kydd. The footage was provided to The Day by a student.
"We hope that our student body recognizes the immaturity of behavior like that and would refrain from continuing to destroy your own school's property," Kydd said. "Please have respect for custodial staff that cares for our building day in and day out."
The minimum consequence for vandalism is Saturday morning detention, parental notification and restitution, according to Kydd.
Superintendent of Schools Jeff Newton on Monday described the clogged toilets as the only notable evidence of the viral trend at the high school. He said no students have been caught or disciplined for any vandalism.
Norwich Free Academy spokesman Michael O'Farrell acknowledged "a few minor incidents" related to the viral trend but would not go into specifics.
He said Head of Schools Brian M. Kelly in a letter told parents that anyone involved either directly or indirectly with such vandalism "will face swift and just disciplinary action."
Norwich Public Schools has had "a little bit" of experience with Devious Licks involving eighth graders at the Teachers' Memorial Global Studies Magnet Middle School, Assistant Superintendent Tamara Gloster said. Students have been moving items within the school, such as fire extinguishers and trash cans, but there has been no damage or theft.
Gloster said Superintendent Kristen Stringfellow sent phone messages home to students' parents advising them of the issues and asking them to talk to their children and to discourage them from participating in the pranks.
"I know they want to be silly and be practical jokesters," Gloster said, "but what we are doing is discouraging them from participating, telling them what is an acceptable joke and what is not."
Gloster welcomed the start of after-school programs, clubs and middle school sports "to keep them busy."
The Devious Licks trend started in the beginning of September with posts on social media showing a box of disposable masks and then a hand sanitizer dispenser that had been stolen from schools, according to the website Know Your Meme. The video of the latter lick garnered 7.2 million views in two days on the video sharing platform TikTok, the site said.
A TikTok spokesperson said the company is removing content related to the Devious Licks trend and redirecting search results.
"We expect our community to stay safe and create responsibly, and we do not allow content that promotes or enables criminal activities," the company said.
For Blumenthal, that's not good enough.
"It's typical of the tech companies that they do too little, too late," he said. "Forgive me, but they really have to do more, do better, do it more quickly, because there will be more of these kinds of glorifying viral videos where people are put at risk."
He said the company should ban users who post objectionable content.
"If the tech platforms can ban political figures when they act irresponsibly, they can do it for kids who destroy property and encourage others to do it," he said.
It was an opinion shared by the East Lyme head custodian when he referenced Twitter's permanent suspension of Donald Trump's account earlier this year.
"If they can shut the president down, how come they can't shut down this type of vandalism?" Hewitt said.
Day Staff Writer Claire Bessette contributed to this story.
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