>The Disturbing Rise of Amateur Predator-Hunting Stings
>How the search for men who prey on underage victims became a YouTube craze.
>A couple of years ago, when Cam, her husband, and her brother-in-law would sit around watching YouTube, a certain kind of video kept popping up. The videos, which were made by groups like Dads Against Predators, the Predator Catchers Alliance, or the Alabama Predator Poachers, tend to follow a similar template, opening with screenshots of flirty messages exchanged between an adult man and someone purporting to be a teen-age girl or boy, set to an ominous soundtrack. After some brief hesitation—Do you mind my age? Your parents won’t know?—the adult’s messages turn more explicit. The pair arranges to meet up—after school, the “teen-ager” might say, I can get my mom to drop me off. Then, the scene shifts to the fluorescent-lit aisles of a Target, or to the parking lot outside a Dollar General. The camera zeroes in on a man standing by himself, furtively checking his phone, his posture betraying anxious anticipation. The predator catchers approach, phones up, cameras already recording. “Did you come here to meet a kid?” they say loudly. The man’s face betrays what is about to happen. He denies everything, or prays to God, or buries his face in his hands, or starts yelling. The predator catchers pepper him with questions and accusations: “Why are you chatting with kids online?” “You’re a pervert, you’re nasty.” They announce that they’re going to call the police, or that they’ve already called the police. Eventually, the man walks or runs away, as his name and license-plate number flash on the screen.