Covering Crime in the Age of Virality

Lam Thuy Vo
7 min readJun 2, 2022

In the summer of last year, a video capturing a shoplifter became the talk of the town in San Francisco. The video shows a young man grabbing items from the shelves of a Walgreens and putting them into a plastic bag before mounting a bike to ride out of the pharmacy. A security guard at the Walgreens is seen filming the incident without interfering.

“​​This just happened at the @Walgreens on Gough & Fell Streets in San Francisco. #NoConsequences @chesaboudin” tweeted Lyanne Melendez who filmed the incident and is news reporter ABC Owned KGO-TV (ABC7) in the San Francisco Bay Area. The video hit a nerve and promptly went viral, racking up 6.3 million views and more than 16,000 likes since it was first published.

According to an analysis by Fair, a nonprofit that analyzes and comments on media coverage of current events, the incident generated at least 300 news stories within the first 28 days of its publication. A search for the tweet on Buzzsumo showed that it was embedded in articles in various languages, including Dutch, Japanese, Polish and Chinese.

In the age of virality, this footage of a local crime spread far and wide.

The video was one of several viral incidents that have contributed to local and national conversations around rising crime rates among the general public and policymakers alike. From a person stealing 10 steaks from a Trader Joe’s to the footage of packages strewn across train tracks in Los Angeles — many incidents of local theft have gone viral and made headlines across the nation, becoming anecdotal focal points for conversations in the public and in the realm of politics about crime.


One opinion writer at The Wall Street Journal proclaimed that “San Francisco Has Become a Shoplifter’s Paradise.” Another opinion writer for the Desert Sun called for a proposition from 2014, “which made it a small-time offense to steal anything worth less than $950, unless you have a history of violent crimes” to be rewritten and for lawmakers to introduce harsher punishments.

Lam Thuy Vo

Journalist. German-born Vietnamese nomad who tells stories using data, visuals & words