Mayor Adams Calls on Social Media Firms to Help Curb Deadly Subway Surfing

At a press conference announcing the “Subway Surfing Kills” public info campaign–conducted in partnership with the MTA, NYPD, DOE, and the NYC Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD)–the mayor honed in what he says are the dangerous effects of viral videos. Five people have died from the dangerous practice so far in 2023, a sharp increase from previous years.

| 12 Sep 2023 | 08:33

Teenage subway surfing deaths are practically an epidemic these days, and Mayor Eric Adams & Co. are hoping to convince young hearts and minds to “ride inside” trains (rather than on top of them) with a new information campaign.

Five kids are said to have died from the practice this year, a sharp spike from earlier years. Five kids in total were said to have died due to train surfing between 2018 and 2022.

At a Tuesday, September 5 press conference announcing the “Subway Surfing Kills – Ride Inside, Stay Alive” initiative, Adams singled out one feasible culprit for the accidents: viral videos on social media, which encourage copy-cat stunts that are likely to end in tragedy.

Emphasizing why this might be, the mayor said that “doing reckless things is part of being young. I can only think of some of the dumb things I did as a child...but, the difference [between] now and then is that when I did something dumb, it stayed on the block. It stayed to 35 people. Now these children, when they do something, it expands to 35 million people.”

“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,” he added.

MTA Chair Janno Lieber kicked off the press conference by similarly alluding to social media, the only difference being that he was referring to the numbness he felt discovering repeated accidents on his own social media accounts. “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,” he said.

New York State Governor Kathy Hochul praised the campaign, proclaiming that “through this innovative partnership, young New Yorkers will hear directly from their teachers and peers about the extreme danger of subway surfing, saving lives and preventing more tragedies. New York will continue to do everything we can to keep our young people safe on the subways.”

Perhaps ironically, the information war against subway surfing will partially be fought on these very same platforms, with the Mayor’s Office noting that “Meta, Google, and TikTok are also making space available on their platforms to help amplify the new messaging campaign.” Influencers have been recruited to post relevant messages, which will be distributed along with “student-created graphics and animations,” physical posters, and banners. Some MTA cards will now feature anti-subway-surfing signage.

The Mayor’s Office clarified that five graduates of the High School of Art and Design on the East Side of Manhattan have formed a “Subway Squad” to devise some of the campaign’s messaging.

The NYPD will play a substantial role in the campaign too, reportedly by conducting home visits on kids seen riding the trains. Apparently, police have conducted 69 home visits to “known subway surfers” between April and June of this year alone.

Maritza Santos, the mother of a fourteen year-old boy that died subway surfing in 2019, told The CITY what her current take on the campaign was: “I pray and hope that this will encourage teens to stop this reckless behavior. But there is still so much that needs to be done besides taking down these videos from social media companies.”

District 2 Council Member Carlina Rivera, who represents the Lower East Side and met with Norma Nazario–the mother of another 15 year-old who died train surfing in February–applauded the new PSI campaign.

She also brought up future actions that she hoped would be undertaken: “Beyond the comprehensive public messaging campaign on MTA materials, at subway stations, and online, we must also improve subway infrastructure to prevent access to train cars and tunnels. Recently, new cars with corridor connections have replaced older versions on the A C lines and are another viable component of the comprehensive solution we need to implement safer infrastructure.”

The press conference was held in Queens under the elevated tracks at 33rd Street & Queens Boulevard, near where a 14 year-old boy died while falling off the 7 train in June. He was attempting to subway surf.