Social media companies have yanked thousands of subway surfing videos and photos offline in recent months — at the request of City Hall and the MTA — as part of a new campaign to discourage kids from riding outside of trains, officials announced Tuesday.
Subway surfing has, according to the MTA, resulted in five fatalities this year — the same number of total deaths from 2018 to 2022 — as social media has fueled a rise in reckless behavior.
Standing beneath the elevated 33rd Street stop along the No. 7 line in Queens, Mayor Eric Adams blamed the “overproliferation” of daredevil posts on online platforms for driving behavior that is more dangerous than when he was a kid.
‘The difference of now and then is that when I did something dumb, it stayed on the block, it stayed to 35 people,” Adams said. “Now these children, when they do something, it expands to 35 million people.”
Adams joined MTA, NYPD and Department of Education officials to launch the “Ride Inside, Stay Alive” campaign, which also incorporates social media companies into flagging clips and images of daredevils riding on top of trains.
In June, 14-year-old Jevon Fraser was killed at the Sunnyside station after tumbling off a train car atop the No. 7.
“We’ve all seen the videos posted on social media too many times, followed by headlines announcing that yet another young person has lost their life while riding outside of a subway car,” Janno Lieber, MTA chairman and CEO said. “When we see that, it’s heartbreaking, we all feel it.”
In the first six months of 2023, there were more than 450 instances of people riding outside of trains, according to MTA data. That’s down from 565 in the same time period last year — but a more than 70% increase from 2019, when there were 262 such reports.
THE CITY reported in February there were 928 reports last year of people riding outside of trains, a 366% jump from 2020, when subway ridership plummeted at the start of the pandemic.
There were two deaths tied to subway surfing in 2022, according to the New York Post. Both of them were teenagers.
“The innocence of exploration, of being youthful, is now being turned against our children and our young people because of the overproliferation of social media and we have to notice this,” Adams said.
Lieber hailed Google, Meta (the parent company of Facebook and Instagram), Snapchat and TikTok for developing algorithms that flag subway surfing content and for sharing “content that affirmatively discourages this kind of behavior.”
“In the short time that we’ve been working together, we’ve already seen them take down 2,600 photos and videos,” Lieber said. “That’s amazing work and I have to give credit and kudos to each of these companies.”
A Meta spokesperson told THE CITY that the company is improving the technology used to detect harmful content on its apps and making potentially sensitive material harder to find, while a representative for TikTok said the video-sharing app will “promptly remove dangerous content like subway surfing.”
Adams said social media companies may have been moved after listening to loved ones of kids who have died from subway surfing.
“We called on them over and over again,” he said. “I think they heard us and they heard the voices of parents who lost loved ones.”
Maritza Santos, whose 14-year-old son, Eric Rivera, died while subway surfing in 2019, told THE CITY that the safety message needs to sink in among teenagers and their parents.
“It’s too late for me, but hopefully not for other families,” she said.
Her son died in November 2019 after riding with friends atop a No. 7 train and falling near Queensboro Plaza. His mother told THE CITY that “about a week” before Eric’s death, she had spotted him in a subway surfing video clip.
“I pray and hope that this will encourage teens to stop this reckless behavior,” Santos said. “But there is still so much that needs to be done besides taking down these videos from social media companies.”
Elvis Suarez, 21, of Jamaica, said he thinks of one thing whenever he sees people riding on top of the No. 7 train during his travels.
“It’s very stupid,” he said.
An Eye for Safety
As part of the “Ride Inside, Stay Alive” campaign, straphangers will hear station announcements telling people to not ride outside of trains and see MetroCards pushing the public safety slogan. The ads were designed by students of The Art and Design High School in Manhattan through a summer program.
Milana Blokhina, who just graduated from the school and now studies graphic design at the School of Visual Art, was one of five students who spent the last few weeks of summer working on the safety initiative.
She said the team brainstormed on different slogans and images for weeks before they were revealed Tuesday.
“It is happening now and it is an issue that needs to be solved as soon as possible because lives are at stake,” said Blokhina, who lives in Sheepshead Bay. “We’re hoping that we’ll be saving lives with this campaign.”