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Fears Raised Over 'Slap a Teacher' TikTok Challenge — But Is It Real?

Little evidence exists that "slap a teacher" is an actual "challenge" on TikTok.

Published Oct 7, 2021

PARIS, FRANCE - OCTOBER 06: In this photo illustration, the logos of social media applications, Messenger, Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp and TikTok is displayed on the screen of an iPhone on October 06, 2021 in Paris, France. Frances Haugen, a former employee of the Facebook social network created by Mark Zuckerberg, told the US Senate on October 05 that Facebook was prioritizing its profits at the expense of security and the impact of the social network on young users. To support her claims, Frances Haugen draws on her two-year experience as a product manager at Facebook and on the thousands of documents she took with her last spring, grouped together under the name of "Facebook Files ". (Photo illustration by Chesnot/Getty Images) (Chesnot / Getty Images)
Image Via Chesnot / Getty Images

September 2021 saw a bit of havoc wreaked in some K-12 schools, which was attributed at least in part to a viral social media challenge called "devious licks" in which youngsters filmed themselves vandalizing or stealing items from their schools, particularly school bathrooms, and uploaded resulting videos to the social platform TikTok.

That trend was blamed for the closure of New Britain High School in Connecticut due to a surge of violence and vandalism, and Connecticut Attorney General William Tong, blamed TikTok. Tong requested a meeting with TikTok's CEO Shou Zi Chew.

The "devious licks" trend segued into fears over another alleged TikTok "challenge," which Tong tweeted about — a so-called "slap a teacher" challenge. Tong's tweet and accompanying letter to TikTok's CEO can be viewed below:

As of this writing, we have not found evidence to support the claim that "slap a teacher" is in fact a viral or widespread trend on TikTok. We found two reported instances in which students allegedly slapped a school employee, but no evidence, other than statements made by school officials, that these incidents were linked by a nationwide trend.

One elementary school student in Lancaster County, South Carolina, is facing expulsion after slapping a teacher in the back of the head. Officials reported on Oct. 5, 2021, that they are "still investigating" whether that incident was in fact posted to TikTok.

On Oct. 6, 2021, officials in Braintree, Massachusetts reported that a student had slapped a school employee as part of the challenge, but again, local news media stated it was unclear as to whether the incident was recorded and posted to TikTok.

In a statement, TikTok said they have't found "slap a teacher"-related content on their platform, adding that "most people appear to be learning about the offline dare from sources other than TikTok."

The "slap a teacher" challenge rumor appears to have originated from a list of alleged monthly TikTok "challenges" that has been posted widely on Facebook and circulated by the news media. It is unclear to us, as of this writing, where or with whom this list originated.

In a statement posted on Twitter, TikTok stated any content related to "slap a teacher" would be removed from the platform:

A search on TikTok for the phrase "slap a teacher" directs to a landing page that says, "No results found," and adds that the phase "may be associated with behavior or content that violates our guidelines."

Searches for variations of the phrase, such as "slap the teacher" turn up mostly results of actual teachers playfully cautioning anyone against participating in such a challenge, or humorous takes:

Harmful social media trends aren't new, nor are they unique to TikTok. For example, in 2018, the "Tide Pod challenge," in which participants filmed themselves stuffing Tide Pods in their mouths and apparently swallowing laundry detergent, was primarily a YouTube phenomenon.

Other recent trends which have proved to be hazardous have included the "milk crate challenge," in which participants attempted to climb over stacked milk crates and the "Benadryl challenge," in which participants overdosed on the over-the-counter antihistamine Benadryl in an attempt to induce hallucinations.

Some challenges end up being little more than hoaxes that nevertheless get wide reportage from news outlets and scare parents, but have little evidence for their existence in reality. Examples of this include the "Momo challenge" and the "condom snorting challenge."


Sources:

Mark, Julian. “A TikTok Trend Inspired Students to Steal Toilets. Now, School Officials Say They’re Slapping Teachers.” Washington Post, 6 October 2021, www.washingtonpost.com, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2021/10/06/tiktok-slap-teacher-challenge/.

Duarte, Jesse. “Viral ‘Devious Licks’ Challenge Incites Vandalism at St. Helena Schools.” Napa Valley Register, 6 October 2021, https://napavalleyregister.com/news/local/viral-devious-licks-challenge-incites-vandalism-at-st-helena-schools/article_375a3257-4d47-53f7-9cf2-80e5f1d4f9ad.html.

Haasch, Palmer. “Schools Are Cautioning against a ‘slap a Teacher’ TikTok Challenge, but It Appears to Be a Rumor Spread on Facebook.” Insider, 6 October 2021, https://www.insider.com/slap-a-teacher-challenge-tiktok-october-trend-2021-10.

Klein, Asher, and Mike Manzoni • •. “Braintree Schools Report Assault, Purportedly Part of TikTok ‘Slap a Teacher’ Dare.” NBC Boston, 7 October 2021, https://www.nbcboston.com/news/local/braintree-school-district-assault-purported-tiktok-slap-a-teacher-challenge/2510936/.

Lorenz, Taylor. “Momo Is Not Trying to Kill Children.” The Atlantic, 28 Feb. 2019, https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2019/02/momo-challenge-hoax/583825/.

“New Britain High School Students Return to Classroom Thursday as Leaders Work to Solve Issues.” WFSB, 1 October 2021, https://www.wfsb.com/news/new-britain-high-school-students-return-to-classroom-thursday-as-leaders-work-to-solve-issues/article_c9223a90-1b45-11ec-a8c8-b7e134f8f9ec.html.

“SC Elementary School Student Slapped Teacher, Could Face Expulsion.” KIRO 7 News Seattle, 5 October 2021, https://www.kiro7.com/news/trending/sc-elementary-school-student-slapped-teacher-part-tiktok-challenge-could-face-expulsion/5SQMMK6BF5AX7HS5F6XOCOZLEE/. 

“‘Slap a Teacher’ TikTok Challenge Could Lead to Student Explusion, Officials Say.” WSOC TV, 5 October 2021, https://www.wsoctv.com/news/local/slap-teacher-tiktok-challenge-could-expel-student-officials-say/K7HPWM6UAFCYHJX2OOTFD4BXWU/.

Lomas, Natasha. “YouTube Is Pulling Tide Pod Challenge Videos.” TechCrunch, 18 January 2018, https://social.techcrunch.com/2018/01/18/youtube-is-pulling-tide-pod-challenge-videos/.

Bethania Palma is a journalist from the Los Angeles area who started her career as a daily newspaper reporter and has covered everything from crime to government to national politics. She has written for ... read more

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