“Lifting” on Tumblr: Inside an Illegal Online Community

“Lifting” on Tumblr: Inside an Illegal Online Community

The internet is weird.

We all know this. Yet, we all still have those moments where we stumble upon a corner of the internet where the masks of anonymity have allowed people to reveal themselves in ways we almost wish we had never seen. I qualify that statement with “almost” because I am weirdly fascinated by idiosyncratic human behavior and find myself virtually eavesdropping on unfamiliar online communities all of the time.

My most interesting recent discovery is that on the social media site Tumblr, eclipsed by talk of One Direction, Drake, and Parks and Recreation, there is a whole community dedicated to shoplifting.

For those who have not heard of it, let me repeat myself. There is genuinely a community of people who steal expensive things and make detailed posts about it on the internet. They have their own lingo, referring to themselves as “lifters” and their activity as “lifting.” With a proud, tongue-in-cheek attitude, they use phrases like “five finger discount” and “sticky fingers.” Their blogs all have weak disclaimers claiming that everything is role play, and some even go so far as to have legal jargon in their descriptions such as, “Everything on this blog is fictitious. Any similarity to an event or person living or dead is purely coincidental.”

Thanks to a detailed step-by-step post in this community, I know how I could steal from Victoria’s Secret if I ever felt the need to. I also stumbled upon guides for shoplifting from Ulta, Sephora, and Target, as well as a staunch warning that only the reckless attempt to steal from the closely-monitored Macy’s. The most popular type of post in this community, however, is hauls. The term “haul” has become a basic one of the online beauty community, meaning a video or post where someone shares their recent purchases. In the case of the shoplifting community, though, these hauls are pictures of the things they stole with the retail prices listed underneath. At the end of the post they total the prices and share how much they “saved.” Experienced shoplifters can swipe up to $1,000 worth of merchandise in one trip.

I think it’s extremely important to stress that these are not cases of stealing out of necessity. No one is taking food or medicine, which would be a completely different story. Most of what is being stolen are luxury items such as designer bags, high-end makeup, and expensive lingerie. Nor are these cases of kleptomania. As far as I am educated and a simple Google search confirms, kleptomania is characterized by an impulsive urge to steal items that you don’t even necessarily want. These “lifters,” on the other hand, carefully plan every excursion.

Besides this being fascinating, I think there are some deep rooted issues that need to be examined. Namely, what motivates people to steal? Just from looking at the posts, I get the sense that this community is mostly teenage girls who are rebelling just to rebel. But somehow this seems to be more than that one cliché episode of every ‘80s/‘90s sitcom where the young girl is pressured by her cool friends to sneak lipgloss into her purse.

This article did a great job of looking into the community and finding that it wasn’t as white and middle-class as the loudest voices may lead you to believe. Though the popular blogs are mostly entitled teens, the community apparently began as a support group for those struggling with poverty or mental illness. It has transformed over time to become this group of teenagers taking things seemingly because they can. There seems to be a sentiment of “sticking it to the man,” even though if anyone is hurt by this, it’s the lowest level employees. This ultimately trivializes the struggles of those who steal because they have to in order to survive, the founders of the community. However, even among the white middle-class teenage shoplifters, there is high likelihood of serious problems such as mental illness or addiction that provoke them to shoplift.

I come from a place not of criticism, but of curiosity. My main fascination with this community is the fact that it exists right before everyone’s eyes. We all know that stealing happens, but no one who does it is going to talk about it with their identity at risk. This is why, although it can sometimes bring out the worst in people, anonymity on the internet allows us to understand human behavior on a deeper level.

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