Should sites like TikTok allow paedophile hunting groups to stream video of alleged abusers?
This week, TikTok removed an Australian account allegedly set up to entrap paedophiles and capture them on film, citing violations to its community guidelines.
The NSW-based account, “Pervert Productions,” which had thousands of views and likes, featured videos of men seemingly lured from a dating app to “meet an underage kid.”
Such armchair vigilante accounts are increasingly popular across many social platforms. But New South Wales police are warning the public against taking the law into their own hands. Suspected predatory behaviour needs to be reported to police, they warn, not posted to online followers.
A growing trend
Kicked off by the controversial US TV show To Catch a Predator, which ended in 2008, the phenomenon of amateur paedophile hunting on social media is hardly new. Facebook pages devoted to it have existed for years and garnered hundreds of thousands of followers.
But the trend has grown rapidly in recent times, as popular streaming video platforms like TikTok ensure heightened interest at a time when child exploitation activity has reached epidemic proportions.
Heroic - or downright dangerous?
One of the oldest self-styled “paedophile hunting” groups is a Scottish organisation known as Wolf Pack Hunters. For over a decade, the group and others like it have been using adult decoys pretending to be children in an effort - often successful - to bait potential abusers.
According to a recent report in The Guardian, such groups are often highly organised and highly effective and have been successfully funnelling evidence to the courts to obtain convictions for years.
But they have also attracted sharp criticism. Cases of mistaken identity, blackmail, mob violence and even suicides have been linked to some of their work, and police do not endorse the public taking the law into their own hands.
"It's fraught with problems," agrees Family Zone cyber expert Brett Lee. Director of the cyber safety consultancy Internet Safe Education, Lee investigated hundreds of child exploitation cases as an undercover detective with Queensland Police.
Like many other professionals, Lee is dubious about self-proclaimed success stories, having experienced first-hand how much hard work goes into a successful sting operation. "No one asked the question why these people can find paedophiles so easily, when skilled professionals struggle to get convictions."
Interested to learn more? Check out Brett Lee's Screen Resolution, a compelling and instructive account of his experience as a professional paedophile hunter .
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