‘Like a recreation’: Movies that seem to indicate youngsters ram raiding, breaking into shops shared on TikTok

Videos of criminal activity are shared on TikTok, including shoplifting and ramming, resulting in an alert to parents. Videos/TikTok

Videos of what appear to be teenagers breaking into and mugging retail outlets – and collecting large quantities of goods such as electronics and cigarettes – are being shared on TikTok, in what police say is an ongoing and worrying trend.

High-speed edited videos of what appear to be youths who have committed retail crime on a number of occasions, overlaid with rap music, were uploaded to the video-sharing platform and viewed by the Herald before being deleted.

Police are encouraging people to report such videos, which they said could potentially lead to criminal charges. But police said it was often difficult to glean the further details of the alleged crime from the short, chaotic clips.

“Any sharing or promotion of disorderly or criminal behavior that encourages people to commit these acts is of concern and, in certain circumstances, could potentially lead to criminal charges,” police told the Herald.

Meanwhile, a psychologist warned of the dangers of other young, “highly suggestible” TikTok users watching these videos.

It’s also believed that viral challenges on TikTok encourage crime among young people who want to be prominent among their peers.

More than 100 Mazda Demio vehicles were stolen from Taranaki last year in what police thought was a TikTok challenge, RNZ reported.

Meanwhile, a teenager accused of intentionally setting fire to packets of potato chips at West Auckland Countdown, which led to the supermarket’s closure, is believed to have committed arson allegedly as a result of a TikTok craze.

Fire at Countdown Henderson in WestCity shopping mall.  Photo / IncludedFire at Countdown Henderson in WestCity shopping mall. Photo / Included

It mirrors similar TikTok trends happening overseas. In the US, children have posted TikTok videos of trashing school toilets and soccer field lawns.

While the alleged crimes aren’t necessarily a new problem, it’s worrying that they’re so readily shared by young, impressionable minds, said Professor Dr. Ian Lambie from the University of Auckland for Clinical Psychology.

“These young people are just using social media to treat it like a game and to gain some fame and notoriety and they don’t really think about the consequences.

“It’s … not attention seeking, it’s thrill seeking, and I suppose getting attention from peers and … it’s a bit of an ego thing, too.”

He said youth are also more likely to take risks in large groups, and this seems to be reflected in the TikTok videos.

A number of short clips were viewed by the Herald before being deleted from TikTok.

One video shows a person exiting a car and running into a retail store holding what appears to be a gun in a gloved hand.

In one video, a person appears to be holding a gun in a gloved hand as they enter a store.In one video, a person appears to be holding a gun in a gloved hand as they enter a store.

The video then cuts to one clip showing one person sorting a large pile of smartphones and other electronic devices, and in another about 50 packs of cigarettes lay stacked in rows on the floor.

In one clip, a car is driven into a storefront while others stand around. Videos of what appears to be a dairy robbery and theft at a jewelry store follow.

Police confirmed that they “from time to time receive reports of incidents that have been seen on social media platforms and are investigating where we can”.

“Police are aware of the activity on social media, but for operational reasons we are unable to expand on this,” the statement said.

“Police’s primary concern is each instance of criminal or unsafe behavior itself and not the specific fact that it is shared on social media.”

In one clip, a jeweler's glass window appears to have been smashed.In one clip, a jeweler’s glass window appears to have been smashed.

Lambie warned that videos of criminal activity shared on TikTok could minimize the seriousness of the crime and “desensitize” viewers and even lead to copycat behavior.

He said the part of the brain that “affects a person’s ability to give sensible, informed, and considered answers” hasn’t developed in teenagers.

“It causes a young person to become much more impulsive and reckless and not think through the consequences of their actions.

“There are certain teenagers who are very suggestible and would see this as a place where they can actually feel power, and for some, where they’ve never felt it before.”

Lambie said all viral challenges based on criminal activity also provide another motive for youth to commit crime and can even “incite” them.

Police are encouraging people to report videos of criminal behavior by dialing 105.

“However, it is important to remember that the larger details and situation are often not immediately apparent or can be determined.

“Videos can be re-distributed after the fact, and sometimes the content can be historical and already covered.”

Police also suggested reporting the videos directly to TikTok.

Lambie stressed the importance of parental education and counseling.

“Know what your youngster is doing. Be aware of what he sees on social media, set boundaries with it and also educate him about the risks and dangers.”

According to TikTok, from April to June 2021, 81,518,334 videos were removed worldwide for violating the community guidelines or terms of service, accounting for less than 1 percent of all uploaded videos.

Videos of illegal activities and regulated goods were 92.3 percent removed before anyone viewed them.

“To prevent such behavior from being normalized, imitated, or facilitated, we remove content that encourages or enables criminal activity,” TikTok said in its Community Guidelines.

TikTok has been contacted for comment.

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