You’ve probably seen the footage. A group descends on a local Walmart, Home Depot, or Target, intent on sowing chaos. The next thing you know, people are scaling the store’s shelving, tossing themselves into displays, kicking around merchandise, incurring the ire of managers, and, occasionally, reducing employees to tears.
Of course, you’re not watching the work of an out-of-control mob or an anti-retail vandal crew or some sort of destructive organized crime ring. These are social media creators at work. They’re just looking for good content, and sometimes that means getting kicked out of a retailer or restaurant chain with a household name.
Take a recent TikTok video, which depicted a group of young men jumping into merchandise displays at a Walmart, for instance:
The since-deleted footage is an extreme example of a trend that’s continued to build over the past several years, one that incentivizes social media creators to seek out clicks and likes by manufacturing incidents within stores.
Business Insider reviewed 36 YouTube videos that fit into this trend, involving Target, Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Ikea stores. Walmart, however, is by far the most popular mark.
The videos were all filmed between 2016 and 2019, raking in everywhere from over a million clicks to views in the low hundreds.
Certain titles explicitly stated their objective of getting asked to leave a store, framing the video as a “challenge.” Others highlighted the fact that store employees called the police to report their antics.
Most of the videos include footage of a store or restaurant employee asking the YouTubers to leave, while a handful of content creators simply claim to have been thrown out without providing corroborating footage. And a handful of these uploads merely feature clickbait titles that don’t actually involve any notable store incidents.
This strain of YouTube content depicts everything from the relatively innocuous — social media creators dancing around the stores or doing the splits in front of fellow customers — to more serious acts involving property damage and the harassment of employees.
But Youtuber Zachary MacDonald, who claimed in a 2017 to have been kicked out of McDonald’s multiple times for different pranks, said that it’s all about giving his viewers what they want.
“The reason that I make such absurd video content such as getting kicked out of a store is purely for entertainment,” he told Business Insider. “Simply put, people online and my subscribers want to watch crazy outlandish stunts that they would not normally see or do and I provide that for them.”
He also explained the appeal of this type of content.
“The crazier the video content, the more views it will receive,” MacDonald said. “People are more likely to share it around with friends and coworkers if it’s hilarious and edgy.”
Regardless of social media, retail and fast food workers don’t exactly have it easy. Research published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology in 2017 found that bargain hunters, in particular, dehumanize the employees they interact with.
And a 2013 study by researchers from the University of Nottingham and Cardiff University looked into customer abuse of service employees and found that abusive behavior toward workers tended to spike when customers saw store interactions “as encounters rather than relationships” and when shoppers had a perceived “higher status” than employees.
MacDonald said that, when it comes to his video pranks, he has no desire to complicate retail employees’ jobs or make anyone feel bad.
“There is no ill intent when I create content like this; it is strictly for entertainment purposes,” he told Business Insider. “Some people might ask if I regret making videos like this, and to that I would say no because I was able to provide entertainment for my subscribers and the people that support me.”
But, despite the endurance of this social media trend, there are limits to what viewers will stomach. YouTuber Lauren Love experienced a backlash in May after she marched around a Walmart store posing as an executive, telling employees that they were fired.
The prank reportedly brought Walmart employee Maria Leones — who has worked at the store for six years — to tears.
“Really, I was really so crushed, I felt so little, I felt so powerless,” Leones told local outlet Click 2 Houston.
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