Tech & The Web

TikTok Challenges Under Fire for Leading Kids Astray

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I’m glad that when I was a kid, we didn’t have TikTok challenges to worry with. But I’d like to think we’d have been too smart to play along.

Are TikTok challenges really prompting kids to do stupid things? Or are they simply revealing how stupid some kids actually are?

School leaders are concerned about challenges on social media they say encourage crime. In Tennessee, one school district said the “devious licks” challenge on TikTok prompts students to vandelize school bathrooms. One district spokesman told CBS News they’ve linked more than 100 incidents of vandalism and theft to the challenges.

Three Pittsburgh teens are facing criminal mischief charges because of a TikTok challenge. Authorities say they damaged a bathroom soap dispenser.

But vandalizing school restrooms seems to be only the beginning.

In Springfield, Missouri, school leaders are warning about severe punishment to anyone who slaps a teacher because of such a challenge would face “severe punishment.” They will likely face criminal charges.

Distractify published a list of what purports to be suggested challenges parents need to look out for over the coming months. The list, based on a circulating list, warns parents to expect monthly challenges based on specific themes. Some or moronic. Others involve anything from assault to indecent exposure to malicious injury to property.

I’ve read about parent and teacher groups urging TikTok and other social media platforms to do something. They want the content blocked immediately to prevent more youths from acting on it.

Maybe we need less blocking and more common sense.

No, I’m not going to make some pointless “First Amendment” argument here. The First Amendment does not apply to a privately-owned website.

I have no problem with social media platforms removing content that violate their standards. No social media platform should think content that encourages teens to do things like this wouldn’t violate standards of decency. If they don’t understand that, maybe they shouldn’t be in business.

But beyond the calls to zap the content, maybe the real solution is parents talking to their kids?

I don’t think I was any extraordinary child. There was nothing all that special about me. But my parents talked to me about right and wrong often enough that I never felt the temptation to destroy someone else’s property. For that matter, I never felt the need to slap a school staff member. Or the desire.

I honestly wonder how many parents ever check their child’s devices. We see stories all the time about parents who will lock down their children’s phones or tablets unless they have unrestricted access to watch for apps they shouldn’t be on.

I know those parents are out there. I’ve met them.

I know peer pressure is only worse now than it was then. But isn’t that an argument for parents to be even more vigilant than they used to be?

Social media can only do so much.

The problem with all social media platforms is there’ll always be something inappropriate getting through. There are too many users and not enough employees.

Deleting something after the fact is one thing.

Preventing every incident that could inspire wrongdoing from getting online before the fact is simply not possible.

There will always be something bad that gets through. Messages children shouldn’t see will end up in front of them, no matter how many “safeguards” are added.

To be fair to TikTok and the other platforms, there’s only so much they can possibly do, no matter how “intelligent” their artificial intelligence safeguards are.

I just wonder if we’re no longer equipping children with the understanding to know better.

And I wonder what changed and what it’ll take to fix that problem.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.