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Cleveland officials considering legal action against TikTok for popularizing Kia, Hyundai thefts

TikTok app on a cell phone.

Cleveland is exploring legal action against TikTok, a short-form video social media app, for hosting content that documents and popularized Kia and Hyundai thefts.

The so-called “Kia Challenge” first populated the site last summer, when a user posted a video using a USB cable on a key slot to hotwire a car, exposing a vulnerability in many Kias and Hyundais sold before 2021.

In the months since, the “Kia Boys,” a hashtag garnering more than 75 million views, have taken to the app to document auto thefts, causing a nationwide surge in stolen Kias and Hyundais.

The discussion came during a Wednesday City Council committee meeting, during which Cleveland Division of Police Chief Wayne Drummond gave an update on a police officer shot Tuesday night while responding to a Kia theft.

Ward 8 Council Member Mike Polensek said he is having city attorneys look into legal action against TikTok.

“It’s like they’re promoting auto theft,” he said during the committee meeting. “These companies have to be held accountable.”

In January, a TikTok spokesperson told The Washington Post that the company does not condone the behavior and the violating content will be removed from the platform if found.

The officer, suffering from two bullet wounds, is currently stable and alert at MetroHealth Medical Center, Drummond said.

If pursued, the suit against TikTok would add to the city’s pending litigation regarding the surge in Kia and Hyundai thefts. Last week, Mayor Justin Bibb announced Cleveland is suing the two auto manufacturers for failing to prevent theft of their vehicles.

Between June and July of last year, when the social media trend picked up, the number of Kia and Hyundai thefts jumped from 32 to 130. Between October and December, more than 1,200 Kias and Hyundais were stolen.

The city’s lawsuit asks courts to require a fix for vulnerable vehicles, which both carmakers say they are working on, as well as compensation for the cost the city has incurred to deal with the rash of thefts.

Abbey Marshall covers Cleveland-area government and politics for Ideastream Public Media.