A California student used a “gender swap” filter on Snapchat to pose as an underage girl in a vigilante effort that led to a police officer’s arrest.
After a friend told him she was sexually assaulted as a child, Ethan, whose last name has not been revealed, set out to lure potential pedophiles into speaking to him on the dating app Tinder.
Using a Snapchat filter that uses augmented reality to overlay gendered facial features on a selfie, Ethan, 20, made an account of himself appearing as a girl and gave himself the name “Esther”.
He matched with Robert Davies, a San Mateo police officer, who asked “Are you down to have some fun tonight?” on 11 May 2019.
Although Ethan’s false account stated that “Esther” was 19, he later texted the man to say that he was actually 16 and asked if it would bother him.
Police say the two then discussed engaging in sexual activity, despite the fact that Davies believed the subject was an underage girl.
He used Snapchat’s “gender switch” filter to pose as a 16-year-old girl online, and take down a police officer allegedly looking to hook up. He tipped off the PD, and the officer was arrested.
Our exclusive interview with the man, and why he did it, at 11 on @nbcbayarea pic.twitter.com/VaGtg14uLL
— Ian Cull (@NBCian) June 11, 2019
Ethan sent the conversations, which he screenshotted, to the not-for-profit crime tip hotline Silicon Valley Crime Stoppers, after which police investigated the incident and arrested Davies.
Davies is now on paid leave from the police force after being charged with communicating with a minor to commit a felony.
Tinder banned users under 18 from the app in 2016 and dating apps have struggled to keep underage users off their platforms.
The Bay Area arrest is not the first to be brought on by online vigilante action. A number of Facebook groups and other communities have emerged in recent years with the express purpose of taking down pedophiles by posing as underage children.
In 2014 a man killed himself after a video of him being outed as soliciting the account of an underage girl which was in fact run by a group of vigilante pedophile hunters called “Letzgo Hunting”.
In 2018, A Connecticut man was caught by a group called POPSquad, which lured him to meet up with a 14-year-old boy they had posed as on a dating app and posted a video of the encounter onto their Facebook page of more than 17,000 followers. The man later hanged himself.
In the Snapchat filter case, the student-turned-vigilante told a local NBC news station this was the first time he has done this, and will likely be the last. “I was just looking to get someone, he just happened to be a cop,” he said.
Snapchat did not respond to a request for comment.