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A 20-year-old college student in the San Francisco Bay Area used Snapchat’s gender swap filter to expose a police officer allegedly trying to hook up with an underage girl, NBC reports.
The filter, which allows people to see what they would look like as the opposite gender, has become immensely popular among Snapchat users, despite its problematic stereotyping.
Ethan, who did not disclose his last name in fears of retaliation, told NBC Bay Area that he was looking to catch pedophiles because his friend had been sexually assaulted as a child. But even he didn’t think he would end up catching a police officer. “I was just looking to get someone,” he said. “He just happened to be a cop.”
He set up his Tinder profile with his gender-swapped photo as a 19-year-old with the name Esther. Then, he matched with San Mateo police officer Robert Davies.
“I believe he messaged me ‘Are you down to have some fun tonight?’” Ethan said. “And I decided to take advantage of it.”
According to CBS, Ethan later matched with Davies on another app called Kik, which has a reputation as a shady platform for millennials and teens. Ethan and Davies then connected on Snapchat, as well.
Posing as Esther, Ethan told Davies that she was 16 and asked if it would be a dealbreaker. Davies said it wouldn’t.
According to screenshots shared by NBC Bay Area, once Ethan revealed she was 16, Davies said, “Yeah that might be an issue.” But he continued to engage in the chat even after learning Esther was a minor. Ethan said the messages soon “got a lot more explicit.”
“Through the messages, I would just—on purpose—get these little bits of information about him so it would be easier for the police to track him down,” Ethan told NBC Bay Area.
He would screenshot the chats on airplane mode, fearing that if Davies was being notified that his messages were being captured, he might block Ethan.
After Ethan tipped off Silicon Valley Crime Stoppers, San Jose detectives launched a month-long investigation into Davies, culminating in his arrest last week, Gizmodo reported. Davies has since been put on paid administrative leave and charged with communicating with a minor to commit a crime.
In a statement, San Mateo Police Chief Susan Manheimer said this “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 has told NBC Bay Area that this was his first and last bust, but people on social media are applauding him.
Not all heroes wear capes. Some wear filters.— Brian (@Protodude) June 11, 2019
With great filters, comes great responsibility— KeyLow (@KeyLow920) June 11, 2019
use the filter for good 🤘— Proud Bulba (@ProudBulba) June 11, 2019
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Samira Sadeque is a New York-based journalist reporting on immigration, sexual violence, and mental health, and will sometimes write about memes and dinosaurs too. Her work also appears in Reuters, NPR, and NBC among other publications. She graduated from Columbia Journalism School, and her work has been nominated for SAJA awards. Follow: @Samideque