What is “subway surfing”, this dangerous challenge popularized on TikTok?

What is “subway surfing”, this dangerous challenge popularized on TikTok?
What is “subway surfing”, this dangerous challenge popularized on TikTok?

It is a challenge that can lead to death. Subway surfing, a new trend that is attracting many young people on social networks, is worrying the public authorities. In New York in particular, the authorities are trying to stop this challenge, which consists of staging themselves by climbing onto the roof of a moving subway.

According to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which manages New York’s transportation network, the release of videos on the networks last spring and summer boosted the popularity of the challenge. It identified 928 reports of people traveling outside of cars, more than four times more than in 2021, and almost double from 2019 (490), the last year before the Covid pandemic.

“It’s like playing Russian roulette”

The MTA called for social media accountability by pointing to TikTok, Instagram or Snapchat. “If they released videos of people playing Russian roulette with live bullets, they would realize the consequences. It’s the same for those children who are encouraged by these glorification videos,” the MTA CEO recently lambasted.

A TikTok spokesperson said the network “does not display videos of known dangerous behavior in search results,” even claiming that it directs searches to guidelines stating that this type of content is not allowed. Snapchat responded that it would “immediately delete” “subway surfing” videos if it becomes aware of them. One of these spokespersons also explained that contacts have been made with the MTA “to discuss the measures we can take to prevent the distribution of this content”.

A challenge reminiscent of the video game “Subway surfers”

Isa Islam is one of those who will regret all his life having gone to get his “adrenaline rush” at the age of 17. That November evening, with two cousins, he had climbed onto the roof of a train car in an underground station on the F line in Brooklyn. On his first – and last – attempt, his head hit a metal beam, blood spurting out and the injuries left him partially blind. “It was extremely stupid,” he says today. “If there’s anyone who needs a time machine, it’s me,” he adds.

Isa, who had spent six weeks in the hospital, and underwent “numerous” operations, survived, but some are less fortunate. In February, a 15-year-old boy died after falling from the roof of a running subway. Another teenager, from the Bronx, died in December. After these accidents, the New York police recalled that the subway was “not a playground” and that getting on a moving car is illegal.

This new trend is also reminiscent of the video game “Subway surfers”, popular on mobile applications, where the hero, a graffiti artist, jumps from train to train and runs on the tracks to escape a policeman. But in real life, “it’s not a video game”, warns Isa Islam, who today delivers his message of prevention within an association, “Breaking the Cycle”.


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