Though the recent Jeffrey Epstein pedophilia case may be making waves in the media, for a large number of people, hunting pedophiles has been a way of life for years. A recent report by Quartz looks into the people who act as Facebook vigilantes, and who pretend to be young children to find — and bring to justice — predators.
One of these men is Tony Blas, a plumber from Queens with two young daughters of his own. Blas founded a page on the social media website called “Team Loyalty Makes You Family,” a page that weeds out potential pedophiles. The page currently has over 40,000 followers.
To find these predators, Blas has decoys start conversations by pretending to be 20 or 21-years-old on social media websites. It is only after a short conversation that the decoy “admits” to being a young teenager, usually between 13 and 15-years-old.
Blas claims that he then waits to see how many people will continue talking to — and eventually meet — an underage child.
“I’m not here to ruin people’s lives if they don’t need to be ruined,” he explained.
“I know people make mistakes, but if you’ve been on for two or three weeks talking, you had enough time to say, ‘I’m doing something wrong here.'”
When the decoy and the target finally agree to meet, Blas said that he always captures the interact on Facebook like for “safety” reasons. The result is a product that is remarkably similar to the Chris Hanson show To Catch A Predator, which hunted pedophiles in the early 2000s.
In one example, Blas accosted a man who had thought he was meeting a 15-year-old. After Blas posted the interaction on Facebook, it was discovered that he was a teacher in upstate New York.
In just the past month, the video has earned 7,000 shares and 370,000 views.
“He was my math teacher! Omg!!!” said one comment.
Though the man had claimed that he had innocent intentions in the meeting, he has since been charged with attempting to endanger the welfare of a child.
“This is real. This is not a joke. They are getting predators off the street,” said Sophia Gabrielle Chery, who is a member of a similar predator hunting group called POPSquad, which operates in Connecticut. To date, POPSquad has caught 149 people.
Quartz found at least 24 such groups operating in the United States, though many of them focused more on sharing information about predators rather than actively hunting them. However, those that do hunt pedophiles are becoming more advanced. Teams have started working with each other, with groups from Tennessee working with teams from New York. Blas even worked once with a Facebook group from the United Kingdom.
However, law enforcement is at times wary of the vigilante groups. Apart from possible violent situations arising from the confrontation, many officials have added that charging the predators can be difficult since hunters do not follow legal guidelines. Evidence can be seen as “tainted” and the discussions “entrapment.”
A majority of hunters, such as Jesse Weeks, agrees that law enforcement is the best way to go. However, he maintains that since law enforcement is often spread thin, unmasking possible predators in the neighborhood public is the “second best thing.”
By making their names and faces public, vigilantes argue, they are at least protecting the community by making its members aware of dangerous predators — even if the predator might not face legal charges.