Local officials say the recent rise in violence and automobile thefts in Rochester and across the country can be directly pointed to viral TikTok videos, and are calling for the platform to restrict/remove the content.
On Tuesday, Congressman Joe Morelle, Monroe County Sheriff Todd Baxter and Rochester Police Department Chief David Smith called on TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew to address and remove violence and automobile thefts promoted by videos on the platform.
The viral videos showcase the #Kiachallenge and other challenges and officials say they have led to more than 775 auto thefts in Rochester so far this year.
“Law enforcement is already in desperate need of resources to combat an epidemic of gun violence in our communities, and the spread of this dangerous content on your platform has exacerbated the problem,” Morelle, Baxter and Smith wrote in a letter to TikTok CEO Chew.
“When these thefts occur, law enforcement resources are not only diverted to address the thefts themselves, but perpetrators of these crimes often use the stolen vehicles to commit additional crimes as well. Members of our community have previously written you to express concern over TikTok challenges that encourage violence in our schools, and TikTok’s inability to properly police its own platform in this case has yet again left our community vulnerable.
We urge you to act responsibly, do the right thing, and prohibit these types of crime-encouraging videos on your site, as you say you do in the Community Guidelines posted on your platform. We must all do our part – we owe it to crime victims and law abiding citizens everywhere.”
Morelle, Baxter and Smith all agree that social media platforms have a moral responsibility to ensure that their content does not negatively impact public safety.
Smith said it’s time for TikTok and other media platforms to do their part to bring an end to this rash of stolen vehicles that are bringing havoc to our streets.
TikTok’s existing Community Guidelines prohibit the posting of certain content by its users and promise that TikTok will remove content in violation of the stated norms and common code of conduct. The Guidelines prohibit the posting of content consisting of “the promotion or facilitation of criminal activities,” and more specifically, “content that provides instructions on how to conduct criminal activities that result in harm to people, animals, or property.”
However, lawmakers say the current level of enforcement of these Guidelines is insufficient and renders these promises meaningless.
“It is wholly irresponsible for TikTok to allow videos promoting criminal activity to remain on their platform,” Monroe County Executive Adam Bello said. “It is long past time for the company to enforce its own guidelines and stop promoting reckless content that glorifies crime and violence and gives kids step-by-step instructions on how to steal cars. Social media companies have a moral obligation to stomp out videos that encourage criminal behavior, period.”
“TikTok has a moral responsibility to make a good faith effort to moderate dangerous content more effectively,” Morelle said. “We are disappointed TikTok has yet to join us in these efforts.”
“Allowing content that encourages car thefts is not responsible. Companies must accept responsibility for the influence they have on our youth,” said Rochester Mayor Malik D. Evans.