Snapchat’s recently found another hit on its hands with a trio of filters that allow users to virtually morph their appearance, either into a stereotypical man, woman, or baby. They’re a fun diversion, but one college student is also using them as a tool for justice.
Earlier this month, San Mateo police officer Robert Davies was arrested on suspicion of “communicating with a minor with the intention of engaging in sexual activity,” according to the local San Francisco CBS affiliate. The police received a tip from someone claiming to be a 19-year-old woman posing as a 16-year-old on Tinder.
It turns out the informant was actually a 20-year-old male college student named Ethan, who spoke to the Bay Area’s local NBC affiliate. He says that he was motivated to try to expose pedophiles after a friend revealed their own history of sexual assault to him.
Ethan posed as a woman named Esther on Tinder, and told Davies that he was 16, a fact that didn’t seem to bother him. The pair then exchanged many messages over the course of about 12 hours so that Ethan could eventually identify who he was talking to (“It got a lot more explicit,” he recalled). Then Ethan screenshotted the conversation and sent it to the authorities.
Oddly enough, the conversation also took place on Snapchat, making the app a one-stop shop for vigilante catfishing. “Snapchat, when you screenshot something, it notifies the other person that they’ve screenshotted the chats, right?” he told NBC. “So I had to screenshot all these on airplane mode in case he blocked me.”
Davies has been placed on paid administrative leave in the meantime. At the time of his arrested, San Mateo police chief Susan Manheimer said, “This alleged conduct, if true, is in no way a reflection of all that we stand for as a Department, and is an affront to the tenets of our department and our profession as a whole.”
Ethan told NBC that he does not plan to repeat the stunt. In the meantime, the filters remain a big hit, and Snapchat’s install rates have doubled since the filters were released.