TABER, Alta. — A man from southern Alberta has been charged with mischief after police say he tried to lick a product inside a food store as part of an online prank related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Police in Taber said it happened last Thursday.
“A group of four people had entered the store and tampered with a product by attempting to lick the item with their tongue,” Chief Graham Abela said in a Facebook post. “A witness to the event was concerned about the activity and reported it to the store management.”
He said the business had to remove some items and sanitize the area where the group was spotted.
Police said a licence plate was written down and officers were able to find the four suspects. One of them, an 20-year old from Taber, has been charged with mischief under $5,000.
Abela said the prank was based on what some people are calling the COVID Challenge on the popular video app TikTok.
“Taber police consider this type of activity a serious breach of good citizenship and conduct that is required during this time of crisis,” wrote Abela. “Reliable and clean food supply is one of our greatest needs at this time. To waste cleaning supplies and food from our shelves during this pandemic is unacceptable.
“We will investigate and where necessary lay charges to the fullest extent of the law to help curb this type of prank.”
TikTok has become popular in the U.S. and other countries, attracting celebrities and companies eager to reach kids and young adults who don’t use traditional media.
Companies and users often start hashtag-based challenges that invite others to participate by posting their own videos.
The coronavirus or COVID challenge doesn’t appear to be widespread.
The Daily Mail has reported that a California social media influencer — a person who gains a large following for their posts — has claimed he was in hospital with COVID-19 after licking a toilet bowl.
The influencer reportedly imitated a stunt by TikTok user Ava Louise, who filmed herself licking a toilet seat on a plane with the caption ‘coronavirus challenge.’ She later claimed it was a clean toilet seat on a private plane.
A spokesperson for TikTok said in an email that the trend is a violation of its community guidelines, which “prohibits content that encourages, promotes, or glorifies dangerous challenges that might lead to injury.”
Taber police did not release the accused’s name, but said in the Facebook post that he will appear in Taber provincial court on July 7 to face the charges. They declined an interview request.
In a response to a question in the post about whether additional charges will be laid, police said they have no grounds to charge the other three people.
“A strong message has been sent to this group and to the community regarding our response to this reported crime,” police said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on April 8, 2020
— By Colette Derworiz in Edmonton, with files from The Associated Press
The Canadian Press