There’s a subreddit for everything, the old internet adage goes, and it’s proven true once again. There are “subs” dedicated to nude photo sharing, dragon sex, and as we recently discovered, stealing.
Welcome to r/shoplifting, an eight-year-old online community of over 35,000 people that is exactly what it sounds like. And then some.
A forum for sharing tips and tricks on how to steal isn’t a totally unexpected find, but it’s surprising to see on a site as highly trafficked (and in plain view) as Reddit. Sure, Reddit’s had its fair share of moderation and hate speech problems over the last few years, but a community that openly promotes theft seems, well, ripe for being banned by Reddit.
That hasn’t happened yet.
The r/shoplifting subreddit is rife with pointers on how to steal, sure. But that’s where the “fun” starts. A good number of posts come from users showing off their “hauls”—the kind of post you might expect to see on a, uh, normal shopping forum.
Except, of course, all this stuff was boosted. Allegedly.
While the moderators claim the community’s just a discussion, read around for a bit and you’ll see members openly encouraging and celebrating each other’s crimes.
For example, check out all the food this person says they lifted from the grocery store, in an adorably titled post: “First Grocery Haul – Whole Foods.”
Among the most popular hauls on r/shoplifting? Cosmetics. This person tagged theirs as a “successful lift,” indicating, of course, that the products were stolen.
And because this is the internet, there are memes.
Yep—shoplifting memes top the most popular posts on r/shoplifting.
Despite the criminal nature of their shared enterprise, the shoplifting community on Reddit interacts like any other tight-knit community bound by common interests.
“It feels like a best friend group chat” one user wrote in a post titled “I love you all so much.”
“I love the idea here of us all being PARTNERS IN CRIME HAHAHAHA,” the user wrote, admitting that the community allows them to share details of activities they wouldn’t reveal to friends.
“It’s true … I can’t discuss lifting with anyone else or in any other forum and it’s a pretty significant part of my life,” another user wrote on that thread. “So yeah, in that regard this IS an important community, I’m sure to a lot of people.”
“I can’t discuss lifting with anyone else or in any other forum and it’s a pretty significant part of my life.”
Among the weirdly heartfelt messages, people share tips and tricks on how to remove ink sensors, discuss different stealing methods, and show off tools of the trade.
Then, of course, are the store-specific posts. Discussions about whether or not the Apple Store has cameras. Does Right Aid have Loss Prevention (a set of policies and procedures intended to protect inventory known as LP)? What’s the low-down on Bass Pro Shops and Target?
The subreddit tries its best to stay under the radar, and actively attempts to censor anyone who opposes stealing. “Welcome to Shoplifting! If you’re here to preach morals, enjoy your very brief stay,” the sidebar reads. The implication is pretty clear: If you try to oppose us, you’ll get banned (or at least downvoted so much no one will see what you have to say).
There’s also a stickied thread from a mod that outlines another way the sub steers clear of any unwanted attention by gaming the Reddit system. According to the post, the moderator Rowdy_4skin enabled an automoderator, which automatically removes posts with less than 75 karma points, a sort of Reddit currency that indicates how active you are on the site. The problem? People using this subreddit often create throwaway accounts to protect their identity, so it’s likely they won’t have any karma, making it difficult for posts to get through without approval.
Approving every post is an annoying task for an unpaid moderator, so Rowdy_4skin thought of a solution. Get some easy karma to build up your throwaway account. The explanation:
“If you are going to use a throwaway to post here, please try and farm up some karma with some generic comments on an easy sub. A few suggestions would be r/aww r/gaming or r/news (just say anything anti-Trump, you’ll get the karma you need trust me).”
Morals not welcome
Spend enough time in r/shoplifting and you’ll see a common theme: Don’t tell us shoplifting is wrong. One sidebar section attempts to address some common questions, like, Why do people shoplift?
Some users justify their enthusiasm for stealing by blaming corporate greed as the reason it’s actually not all that bad. Meanwhile, others see theft as a way of punishing companies that don’t pay their employees a fair wage.
Yes, there’s a voyeuristic thrill to reading r/shoplifting, and yes, philosophical arguments about the value of shoplifting are interesting. Still, given precedent Reddit itself has set, why Reddit allows r/shoplifting to persist is a mystery. Typically, the company bans subreddits that break its rules—and depending on your interpretation of those rules, this sub could’ve been banned long ago.
According to its policy, content’s prohibited on Reddit if it’s illegal, and while r/shoplifting might characterize itself as a place to discuss theft—and nothing more—users posting photos of stuff they claim to have just stolen from Whole Foods seems like a (very proud) admission of guilt. Consider: Reddit wouldn’t allow photos of other types of crimes submitted by the person who claims to have committed them.
In the past, Reddit banned a handful of subreddits, mostly for harassment reasons. But the site knows that banning a subreddit opens it up to criticism and that issues of free expression online are thorny. Reddit didn’t respond to a request for comment on r/shoplifting—we’ll update here if they do.
In February, the company rolled out an update that gave its classic front page a different feel. When visiting the site without logging in, users are now directed to the safety of r/popular, instead of seeing posts from select default subreddits, or all subreddits. The update protects the casual user from seeing controversial or NSFW material. It keeps the politics and porn away, while highlighting things that made the company look good, like cute dog memes.
When reached for comment, r/shoplifting moderator Rowdy_4skin pointed to other subs that feature illegal activity, such as r/drugs or r/opiates.
“I dont think we do encourage people who werent [sic] going to lift to lift,” the moderator wrote. “If you look at our rules, you’ll see that no moralizing is one of them and that applies both in favor and against shop lifting [sic].”
Posted on the sub that day was a message that contradicted that statement.
“You “f” made me comfortable with it again,” the title reads. In it, a person explains they haven’t stolen in six years, and is stealing again after reading the subreddit.
“Reading this page made me comfortable again and I have made about two to three lifts of small items all under $10 to $20. I remembered how easy it was and it’s kinda thrilling,” the user wrote.
‘Some do it for the thrill. Some just like free shit. Mostly free shit.’
While the question of banning the subreddit might be more complicated if it’s users needed to steal to survive or provide for their family, that’s clearly not what’s happening here. As one user elegantly put it, “Some do it for the thrill. Some just like free shit. Mostly free shit.”
The users in r/shoplifting aren’t stealing out of necessity. They’re showing off how they took a drone from the Apple Store, an engagement ring, or home goods from IKEA.
They just like free “sh*t”. However passionately they justify it, it’s a pastime that happens to be illegal.