These #CarPrank videos have the same template. The driver gives lift to an unsuspecting minor (mostly boys), develops familiarity with him, then tells him that he is being kidnapped. The child, in most cases, tries to open the car door and flee, but is prevented physically or through auto lock of the car. The child is scared with fake syringes, drugs and in other ways to evoke a dramatic reaction.
The footage is recorded on a dashcam fitted inside the car and later edited with emotive music and popular memes to elicit laughs.
Some of these videos have more than 5 lakh views on YouTube and over 60 lakh views on Instagram. TOI made several attempts to reach these vloggers, but did not get a response.
The videos usually end with an “educational message”, warning children against taking lifts from strangers, ostensibly to absolve the makers of the accountability of making a dangerous prank. None of the videos mention if consent of the parents was taken prior to making the reels.
One of the most popular videos, which went viral before being removed from YouTube for violating guidelines, is from a channel called ‘Rider Salman’ with more than 68,000 subscribers. In the video, the driver gives a lift to a boy aged around 12 and then calls up someone and informs them that a boy has been found and “looks good”.
The driver’s friends sitting in the backseat take out a syringe. The scared child pleads them to stop and then tries to jump from a moving vehicle, screaming for help. Though removed from YouTube, clippings continue to remain viral on Instagram.
TOI scanned through the video sharing platform and found more than 15 similar videos, with views ranging from 50,000 to 5 lakh.
The vloggers are in constant pursuit of bizarre elements. For instance, a video by channel ‘Kakinada Prankster’ has a shot of lifting the shirt of a teenage boy, who was offered lift. The driver talks of “de-sexing” the terrified boy and pushing him into sex trafficking and begging.
A major part of the problem appears to be viewers, who egg on the creators to go “extreme”. ‘Pataka Pranks’, a channel which started in October 2022, saw its subscribers rise from 500 on February 4 to 6,330-plus by March 31, after it uploaded its first prank video involving a minor on February 18.
Problematic as such prank videos of children being ‘kidnapped’ appear to be, police say consent of the child and the parents is a crucial aspect when checking for legality.
“Sometimes children agree to be part of such acts. Even if consent is there, such videos must carry disclaimer all throughout that it is for the purpose of awareness only. If consent is not taken, then based on the kind of harassment, action can be taken based on a complaint under relevant sections of law including IPC, IT Act and Juvenile Justice Act etc. Social media needs more regulation so that the line between awareness and harassment can be distinct to take action,” said Shikha Goel, additional DGP and head of Womens’ Safety Wing, Telangana Police.
Kakinada SP, M Ravindranath Babu said the IT core team had been tasked to verify such videos and necessary action would be initiated in accordance with the JJ Act and IPC.
However, child rights activists say the matter needs more scrutiny at a state level. “The videos look like they are done without consent of the parents and the children and worse, the children’s fears are being monetised. This is serious and action must be taken against these YouTubers,” said Hima Bindu, child rights worker.