Who Will Save Us from the TikTok Teens?

Ah great, they're starting electrical socket fires with their phone chargers for clout now.

tik tok outlet

Screenshot via YouTube/TikToks4You

OK just want to say up top here that you really want to avoid succumbing to hysteria about viral trends and “challenges” and so on. They’re almost always phenomena that exist exclusively in the media, as TV news broadcasters spend their evenings trying to spook moms and dads about what their kids are up to when they’re not around. Given that I have only the most basic idea of what TikTok is or does—it’s like Snapchat but just more of it?—I really want to avoid drifting into alarmist media mindset territory here.


As three recent cases in succession show, the teens in Massachusetts are doing some remarkably dumb stuff with electrical sockets and it is therefore worth at least considering what the hell is going on with this thing.

At the risk of, uh, giving any impressionable Zoomers reading this any ideas, a new way to achieve TikTok infamy is you plug in a cellphone charger but leave a tiny gap between the socket and the plug, then drop a penny in there and, as videos documenting this show, it explodes. In the ideal situation, as I understand it, doing this just activates the circuit breaker in your house and/or school and cuts the power momentarily as a prank. But that is not always what happens.

Exhibit A comes to us courtesy of a pair of students at Westford Academy, who, according to the school’s principal, tried the coin trick on Friday, caused an explosion that produced a loud noise and cloud of smoke, and led to an evacuation. One student is now facing charges.

Then on Tuesday, photos emerged of a similar scenario at a home in Holden, where, according to the local fire department, a TikTok teen tried this trick and also scorched a socket (the student’s mom apparently passed the photo of the blackened outlet to the media).

Both cases have so alarmed the state fire marshal that he’s alerting fire officials statewide about the threat posed by clout-chasing TikTok users. “I wanted to make you aware of a new viral video that involves the unsafe use of electricity and fire,” Fire Marshal Peter Ostroskey writes in a letter obtained by the State House News Service that was sent to the heads of every fire department in the state, along with fire safety educators. After explaining the mechanics of the videos, he encourages the officials to spread the word about the dangers posed by being stupid around electrical sockets and other fire hazards. “You might reach out to local news outlets, school officials, and parent organizations. Alert them to this challenge, advise them to, not only look for signs of fire play like scorched outlets, but to have conversations about fire and electrical safety with tweens and teenagers. S.A.F.E. educators might reach out to their school partners because teaching why this is dangerous could be a good science lesson.”

But in case you thought they would have learned their lesson by now, there’s more. On Tuesday, someone else appears to have given the charger trick a try at Plymouth North High. Photos show a blackened and melted penny wedged between the charger’s prongs.

Thankfully there have not been any reports of injuries but, yeah, not great!