When People Rage Against The Scooter Machines, This LA Instagram Shares The Destruction
We've been writing a lot about dockless electric scooters. The primary reason is that they're pretty much inescapable in Los Angeles these days, and we want you to be up-to-date about how the mass experiment in mobility is playing out in SoCal.
Another reason is that I personally can't get enough of this kind of news. It's a perfectly chaotic mix of transportation experiment, tech company disruption, human folly and local outrage, which city governments are trying to wrangle into something resembling order.
One of the places I turn to better understand and visualize this tension is Instagram. Specifically, Bird Graveyard, an account that shares photos and videos of people (and sometimes animals) descrating and destroying scooters in L.A. and everywhere else dockless fleets show up.
The account is basically a case study in backlash (and it's not the only one on Instagram), and what you learn scrolling through the feed is that scooter hate is real, and people are here for it.
The account also shares videos of riders crashing and generally behaving badly, plus sabotage like cutting brakes and squirting condiments on the handlebars. And it's not just unruly youths taking part -- scooter hating is an ageless pastime.
Bird, Lime and their competitors have all released versions of a statement that says vandalism is bad and they're working to address it, but the companies don't seem to consider it a major issue, at least publicly.
Lime said "theft and vandalism occur in less than 1%" of its fleet, though the company would not clarify if that's its worldwide fleet or what type of damage falls under the umbrella of vandalism.
We contacted the lead admin of Bird Graveyard via the Instagram account. He spoke to us on the condition he not be named because of the controversial nature of some of the posts. He told LAist the account receives up to 100 messages and submissions a day, many of which get shared to the account feed as photos or video compilations, or via Instagram stories. Here's our conversation (edited for clarity).
How did this account first get started?
It was me and two friends -- I was in Venice, my other buddy was in Santa Monica and then our other friend was in Silver Lake. When they unveiled Bird scooters and we saw them start popping up, we'd see them in garbage bins and up in trees, and we'd just take pictures and send them to each other. We thought it was funny, so we created the Instagram account.
What's your goal with Bird Graveyard?
In the beginning it was all entertainment value. We thought it was funny. Eventually, (scooters) were scattered all over the city. It was kind of a nuisance. We felt [we should] let people know what's going on. People are outraged with the way [scooter companies] went about throwing them on the streets and not really asking anybody.
In the beginning [posts were] strictly L.A. These days, it's probably half of them. We have a big following in Europe. They've been dropping them all over Paris and parts of Holland. We get a lot of people sending stuff.
So, people film themselves destroying scooters, send the evidence to you, and then you post it. Why do you think people are so willing to do that?
There's two sides to that. One is people love the internet clout, where they just think it's funny to be reposted on a platform (since) there are a lot of eyes on us. The other is people do genuinely care and they're trying to make a ripple effect in the companies -- kind of a "hit 'em where it hurts" type deal. And they want to be known for it.
Have you been contacted by Bird or Lime or any other companies?
We were blocked by Bird on Instagram. Nobody's reached out to us specifically. I think [Bird] reported our account, which did lead us to get disabled for a little bit. But we appealed it and they brought it back. I think [Bird was] saying that it was vandalism.
To your knowledge has anyone you've featured on the account had to face any legal consequences for scooter-related behavior?
There's one guy that got ticketed. I believe he was in Austin, Texas. He got a ticket for a disorderly persons offense and he just wanted to let us know. I believe I shared it in the story when he did that.
It seems your stance is that a repost is not an endorsement, right?
Right. A lot of people get upset when they see the scooters in bodies of water. People are chucking them off piers and into lakes and stuff.
I'm an avid waterman myself, and I don't endorse anybody throwing them in any waterway. Some people start blowing up, saying that we're promoting throwing them into the ocean. Really, it's more of a news feed -- we're showing people that this is what happens. Obviously, the scooters are going to end up in the ocean, so don't get mad at us for showing you what's going on in day-to-day life.
Do you have any predictions for where scooters go from here?
I'm out in New York City right now and I see the Citi bikes everywhere. They work appropriately because they have a place to dock them -- they're not scattered over the streets. I can only imagine what New Yorkers would do if [scooters] were on the streets. It wouldn't be good for anybody.
I think [scooters are] going to trend more toward personal use vehicles instead of the rideshare gig. I think people will start purchasing them... people will take care of their own property, rather than some faceless corporation that leaves their s-- everywhere.
You launched this account last June. What have you learned in the past year watching hundreds, if not thousands, of clips of people taking their outrage out on scooters?
I've looked at more videos and pictures than I'd like to admit.
Everybody thinks they have the next best idea, but if they don't think it out thoroughly enough, then there's going to be unforeseen consequences and this is a great example.
Part of that is resentment towards big companies just taking advantage of communities to exploit them.
The debate is basically "they're a good mobility solution for a lot of people" vs. "they're a public menace." Where do you see Bird Graveyard in that debate?
Pretty centered. I think that personal electric transportation can benefit people. I just think there's way too many of them and people are going to be people. They're going to ride them where they're not supposed to go. It's just going to happen like that. People don't appreciate other people's stuff and that's something [scooter companies] didn't think about.
Have you ridden a scooter?
Yeah. It was a cool experience. It's weird being asked that question. People that I know, who know that I'm associated with this, think I just hate everything. But there's definitely some sort of use for those things. I just think the way that companies have carried it out hasn't been good.