Viral TikTok and YouTube Videos Have ‘Sped Up the Process’ of Stealing Cars

Officials are citing the rise of so-called "performance crimes," or crimes committed solely for the purpose of entertainment or social media clout.

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In late April, attorneys general from 17 states called on federal regulators to issue a mandatory recall on certain Hyundai and Kia models. Earlier this month, the city of Baltimore filed suit against the two car makers, joining Cleveland, Seattle, and other cities. And, last week, Kia and Hyundai reached a proposed settlement in a class action lawsuit with car owners. The impetus behind these legal actions are viral videos on social media sites like TikTok and YouTube that show how easy it can be to steal certain models of these cars.

It's part of the rise of so-called "performance crimes," or crimes committed solely for the purpose of entertainment or social media clout.

Markell Hughes, a Milwaukee teen portrayed in a "Kia Boys" video, recently reached a plea deal for his part in one of the first viral videos to showcase techniques for stealing a Kia. According to courthouse documents, Hughes acknowledged his viral success during a jailhouse phone call, allegedly stating "I heard my video went viral too. I heard my (expletive) hit 50K in one day."

But while the goal of individual videos might be attention or traffic, the rise in their popularity seems to have encouraged more people to emulate the actions in the videos, leading to a notable increase in stolen cars.

The trending videos not only show people how to break into various cars but how to use a USB cable to hotwire them. While TikTok said it removes the videos that are reported, many appear to slip through.

Michael Scott, a former police officer and current director at the Problem-Oriented Policing Center at Arizona State University noted that social media has "sped up the process" of sharing methods of stealing a car, telling the Associated Press that, "before, you had to know or meet someone who had figured out that all you needed was a screwdriver.”

YouTube has also removed videos depicting what’s known as the “Kia Challenge” in recent months, spokesperson Elena Hernandez said in a statement to the AP.

“We might allow some videos if they’re meant to be educational, documentary, scientific, or artistic,” Hernandez told the AP.

Last fall, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety released a report showing that Hyundai and Kia vehicles from model years 2015-2019 were "nearly twice as common" as cars from other manufacturers to be the subject of a theft claim.

In February, the National Highway and Safety Administration blamed the social media challenge trend for over a dozen crashes and eight fatalities. 

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