There’s a guy I know on Facebook who shares precisely one type of content. No pictures of themselves or life updates, just the one thing. And that one is thing is footage from vigilante paedophile hunter groups.

I didn’t even know this was a thing until they started showing them. But once I started looking into them, this whole fascinating world began to emerge. It’s pretty wild. And surprisingly problematic.

So the general deal is that there are these groups around the UK that hunt paedophiles.

If you’re familiar with the infamous NBC Dateline show To Catch A Predator, then you know the deal. The groups lurk online chatrooms to uncover paedophiles, who they talk into arranging a meetup. When they actually rock up in person, the groups then kind of… film and mock them for a bit before handing everything over to the police.

screenshot from the "Our Ghosts team" Facebook page celebrating the successful arrest of Chris Kaye from Leeds

If that all sounds a bit dodgy to you, then I agree. I don’t know the specifics of how entrapment laws work, but this seems to be treading the line. And I’m also not clear on how legal it is to do this kind of vigilantism? I mean, sure, they’re going after bad people. But it’s extremely, um, extra-judicial. 

Police forces themselves don’t seem to be very approving of the practice, at least in public. The problem is that once you make the identity of a suspect public, you paint a pretty large target on their backs for further repercussions. The police then have to divert time and people to protect the suspects from the public. And also from themselves, as outed-but-not-charged suspects have killed themselves in the past before facing real justice.

There’s also a whole ‘tipping off’ element to it. Giving people a heads-up that they’re being investigating for a crime is a pretty big no-no in the UK’s legal system. The reason being that it gives criminals the chance to get away or destroy evidence that police could use against them. So in this way, the vigilante groups put active investigations in jeopardy.

In their defence, the hunters have acknowledged this risk. It’s clearer in recent videos that the police have already apprehended the featured suspects.

But there’s a more worrying aspect of this whole thing to me.

Other than the ethics of enacting public justice outside of the established framework, the suspects they feature are often themselves vulnerable.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not defending paedophiles. But live-streaming the public mockery of people with disabilities or learning difficulties doesn’t sit right with me.

The suspects themselves are made into figures of ridicule, often based on their behaviours or appearance. But watching the videos makes it plainly apparent that these people are not well. They’re still dangerous, but this doesn’t feel like justice.

Some have even gone viral, like the ‘bald nonce’ who repeatedly showed up in TikTok videos in my feed last year.

General members of the public are not equipped to deal with people like this. And they often take things too far, using excessive physical force and even essentially imprisoning their targets.

So what’s the verdict? Well, it’s complicated! Paedophiles are dangerous, and stopping them from harming children is a good thing. But doing so outside of the law has its own risks to everyone involved and often doesn’t feel like genuine justice. Further still, the targets of these stings are often vulnerable themselves and should be handled by people with proper training. Their public humiliation serves no real purpose other than to further stigmatise disabilities and mental health problems.

Phew, that got pretty serious. So to lighten the tone, here’s some of these groups’ bizarre artwork.

They all have these pseudo-military task force vibes. But these lads are hardly the Navy Seals.

the Facebook page for Elite Predator Interceptors, featuring a cover picture  of a man in a hood, a T-Rex, and a man in a little red toy car

For me, it’s the guy in the toy car.