A TikTok creator said he persuaded his followers to spread awareness about the fake "porcelain challenge" to comment on the "moral panic" that misrepresents individual viral videos as widespread social media trends.
Days later, he said TikTok banned his account after it flagged his videos for promoting "dangerous acts."
Sebastian Durfee, who was known as childprogeny on TikTok, said his account was permanently banned Monday after he joked in a video about creating a fake challenge to alarm “boomers.”
In the video, which was posted Saturday, before the account was removed, Durfee proposed that TikTok users spread a rumor that Gen Z was "grinding up their parents' antique china into a fine powder and snorting it like cocaine."
“I thought it would be interesting to see if I could find the sweet spot of manufacturing something that is blatantly false and have the receipts to prove it — anyone could look it up and find out where it started,” Durfee said. “But still be interesting enough that people will want to get in on it and help it spread.”
NBC News could not immediately confirm that TikTok banned the account. The account no longer exists on the platform.
A spokesperson for TikTok said that content that promotes dangerous behavior, even if it's fake, violates the platform's community guidelines.
Before it was removed, Durfee's main account had over 154,000 followers, and his first video about the challenge had more than half a million views. Within hours, the "porcelain challenge" evolved into an inside joke among regular TikTok users. The #porcelainchallenge tag had over 5.3 million views Tuesday.
“And for the most part, it seemed like everybody who knew about it was in on it and was part of the joke, and I didn’t think it would progress any further than that,” he said.
A TikTok user described seeing "ppl doing [expletive] toilet bowls like" cocaine, using the snowflake emoji to represent the drug to evade TikTok's content moderation. Others posted videos that appeared to have been recorded in hospitals and claimed that they had been hospitalized for snorting porcelain. Another TikTok user commented that a "cousin's cousin" attempted the challenge and "they had to pour grout down his nose."
"DID ANYONE SEE THAT ONE VIDEO?!?!" creator Ben Blue captioned a recent TikTok video about the challenge.
Responding to comments on a video warning viewers about the dangers of snorting porcelain, TikTok user eli_orwhatever wrote, "Personally I plan to do everything in my power to get it on Fox News."
Durfee said he concocted the fake challenge after the Food and Drug Administration released a statement warning parents of a “recent social media video challenge” that “encourages people to cook chicken in NyQuil.”
The “challenge” the FDA referred to appears to stem from a 2017 4chan post joking about braising chicken tenders in cough syrup, which a TikTok user re-created this year. The video gained moderate attention when a handful of TikTok users posted videos reacting to the dish, but as BuzzFeed reported, “NyQuil chicken” did not actually trend on TikTok until the FDA issued its statement about it.
Durfee's “porcelain challenge” follows years of alarmist news coverage of viral posts or videos that gained attention online but were either hoaxes or absurdist jokes that were taken seriously.
In 2018, memes about wanting to eat laundry detergent packets sparked widespread media coverage of the “Tide Pod Challenge.” The American Association of Poison Control Centers received 86 reports of teenagers’ intentionally ingesting laundry detergent in the first three weeks of that year, which, as The New Statesman reported, was disproportionate to the “mass hysteria” prompted by the alleged challenge.
Last year, the California Teachers Association warned educators about the supposed “Slap a Teacher” challenge, even though there was no evidence that children were actually assaulting teachers for TikTok views.
“Just because someone wrote it down somewhere, does not mean it’s actually a TikTok trend,” disinformation researcher Abbie Richards tweeted in response to the "Slap a Teacher" challenge.
Durfee upped the ante by posting screenshots of fake news articles warning parents about the challenge. Some viewers appeared to believe the articles were real, Durfee said, without taking the time to verify them themselves. That was "rather discouraging," Durfee said.
"I wanted to see if I could take the people who were in on the joke and make them unaware that they were part of the next round of critique," he added. "I think when people feel like they are in on the inside joke, it might encourage them to give up their critical thinking for the purpose of, like, safety and numbers."
By Sunday, TikTok had added a disclaimer to his video warning about dangerous content.
"I took it and rolled with it. ... If you're watching the video, the first thing you hear is 'Let's make a fake challenge that we're not actually going to do,'" Durfee said.
Several of Durfee's videos were flagged Monday for "promoting dangerous acts," according to Durfee. He said that in one of the videos TikTok removed, he responded to another user's video about spreading awareness of the challenge by posting about it in various Facebook groups. Another video he said was flagged showed screenshots of a New York Post article about the challenge.
He said he was permanently banned from his main account, childprogeny, on Monday evening. Durfee criticized TikTok for banning his account, as well as other users' accounts, while allowing so many accounts that promote hate speech to remain live.
"The moral panic overcomes the actual facts of the situation. No one's doing this," he said. "No one even thinks other people are doing it. But since I've referenced something that is in itself dangerous ... that's just as apparently bad as endorsing it."
TikTok's community guidelines forbid users from sharing content "depicting, promoting, normalizing or glorifying dangerous acts that may lead to serious industry or death," including content that promotes or endorses "collective participation in dangerous or harmful activities" that violate its Community Guidelines.
The guidelines specifically apply to content that depicts or promotes "ingesting substances that are not meant for consumption and could lead to severe harm."
Although no government agency has specifically addressed grinding up antique porcelain and snorting it, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health does warn that breathing in dust from silica-containing materials — such as porcelain tile — can cause the debilitating lung disease silicosis.
Durfee reiterated that he highly doubts that anyone who regularly uses TikTok and is involved in online communities planned to participate in the porcelain challenge.
"There's such a clear disconnect between the people who are the ones who are supposedly experiencing it and the ones who are commenting on it from the sidelines," Durfee said. "I wouldn't be surprised if there's a duality to these things. The younger generations are the ones supposedly doing it but are actually just thinking it's funny, and the older generations are the ones who are actually feeling the effect of it despite not realizing it."