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TikTok 'Performance Crime' Persists Despite Pressure

Unlike some social media-driven trends that seemingly disappear just as police get a handle on them, auto thefts promoted on TikTok and other platforms have continued, with new videos inspiring fresh waves of thefts, the Associated Press reports. The persistence of the phenomenon illustrates how dangerous online content gains traction with teens looking for ways to go viral, a phenomenon known as performance crime. Although critics have focused largely on the makers of Kia and Hyundai cars, whose security vulnerability in some models fueled the craze, some police departments, victims and the automakers also point the finger at social media platforms. “It’s very much a Whack-A-Mole problem,” said Hany Farid, a digital forensics expert at the University of California, Berkeley, who stepped down in January from TikTok’s U.S. content advisory council because he felt unable to affect change. “Because these platforms were not designed to be safe for kids, or for anybody.”

TikTok’s enforcement report from the last three months of 2022 showed 5% of the videos the company removed were due to dangerous acts and challenges, with 82% removed within 24 hours. Like many social platforms, TikTok screens content with a combination of artificial intelligence and human moderators who try to catch whatever AI might miss. A spokesperson said it’s easier for technology to spot certain violations, like nudity, than things like teens breaking into cars. The human moderators are a second level of screening when content is questionable. Users also sometimes subvert the platform’s controls by misspelling or changing words in hashtags. Some see that as a loophole deserving attention. TikTok says it monitors misspellings and touted the content being forced away from mainstream hashtags as a success. Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, did not reply to a request for comment on how it screens for similar videos. While the "Kia Challenge" is the social media crime trend of the moment, it’s not the first. And, experts say, it’s not indicative of social media creating a paradigm shift in criminal activity. There are also plenty of examples of trends in criminal activity spreading before social media existed as it does now. Before there were “rob mobs” there was “wilding” in the 1980s, in which groups of people gathered in public to cause chaos, vandalize or steal property. And before the Kia Challenge, there were groups of teens in the 1990s who figured out they could steal General Motors vehicles using a screwdriver. Michael Scott, director of the Problem-Oriented Policing Center at Arizona State University, said social media hasn’t completely changed crime. “Social media seems to be a radically new thing, but the only new things are the speed and the breadth,” Scott said.


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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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