If you saw these young men wandering around a shopping centre with a microphone talking to teenagers, you might think it’s just a bit of harmless fun.
But what they are doing is not an innocent prank. They are preying on children as part of a disturbing online trend known as ‘baiting out’.
The cult YouTube ‘stars’ encourage youngsters to talk about those they claim to have had sexual encounters with and make derogatory and crude comments about them. They then post videos of these ‘interviews’ online where they are viewed thousands of times.
All of the footage on Baithead’s (pictured) channel has been taken down. The Google-owned web giant said it breached its policies on harassment and bullying
In often excruciating footage, children who look as young as 12 make candid admissions on camera to the men when they approach them at random with a microphone in hand. Those quizzed give graphic descriptions ranging from the breasts of a girl in their class to sexual favours classmates have carried out.
‘No-one should have to feel so humiliated’
Victims of the bait out trend have told of their humilation after sexual slurs about them were broadcast on the web.
Cassidy Valentine, a model and YouTube video blogger, was named in a bait out clip and accused of being sexually promiscuous.
Miss Valentine, pictured, who was in her teens at the time, told the BBC: ‘I just felt so victimised by it and it was really embarrassing and humiliating to go through. No-one should have to feel like that, really.’
Cassidy Valentine, a model and YouTube video blogger, was named in a bait out clip and accused of being sexually promiscuous
Others have spoken anonymously about their ordeal. One 14-year-old girl told Childnet: ‘Lots of people asked for nudes and I finally sent one to a boy who told me he really liked me and that if I sent him one we could be such an amazing couple. I fell for it and the next day my pictures were all around the school… Everyone says it’s okay for boys …but when girls do it all you get is hate, like slag, sket, slut etc … I regret it.’
A 15-year-old girl told the charity: ‘A nude was sent and it was screenshot and posted on social media. From there, it was screenshot and sent around other people and into group chats. Comments were made about it for a period of time for various reasons. It still happens now even though it happened a year ago.’
When Childnet asked one 13-year-old boy why naked pictures were being shared online, he said: ‘Because all their friends are doing it and they feel like they’re not one of them any more. So to look cool they’re like: “Look, I’ve got nudes too”.’
In some cases, the young people the teenagers are ‘shaming’ are named in full, along with the school they attend.
Once online, the clips garner thousands of ‘likes’ and views within days.
Those leading the trend, under names such as ‘Baithead’ and ‘Van Banter’, have become internet celebrities. They even boast of having agents and managers to boost their profiles. They ask questions such as: ‘Bait out the biggest sket [most promiscuous] girl you know.’
In one, a young unidentified boy, who appears to be around 12, is asked by Van Banter: ‘You got a message for your ex?’ The child answers: ‘I don’t have exes I have whys, like: “Why did I dil [have sex with] them, innit?”.’
Videos are met with glee by viewers who beg for more content, with the ‘interviewers’ promising to upload more if they reach a certain number of likes.
Van Banter, real name Jannes Lenting, has become so well-known that a clip online shows him being besieged by young girls demanding selfies. In another video, a young woman provides a girl’s full name, telling Baithead: ‘She has slept with every guy I have ever spoken to.’
A youngster provides the details of a girl he has slept with, before making comments about the girl’s breasts. ‘She’s a sket,’ he adds.
In one video, set up by a group called Baiting Out in Birmingham, a 15-year-old boy says of a 14-year-old girl that she is ‘The biggest s*** I know’. Will Gardner, head of charity Childnet, described the content as ‘really concerning’.
He said: ‘I would really want people to think about what the implications are of what you say and when that can be shared online.When it can be seen more broadly, the impact can be large.’
YouTube has now removed the videos flagged by the Daily Mail. In the case of Baithead, all the footage on his channel has been taken down. The Google-owned web giant said it had breached its policies on harassment and bullying.
But before they were deleted, the videos had amassed up to 16,000 views. Baithead had over 150,000 subscribers on his channel.
Van Banter, a 20-year-old from Peckham, south-east London, has an agent and states that he is available for ‘bookings and hostings’ – meaning that he could stand to make money from the cyberbullying content. On talent website Star Now, he says: ‘I am a YouTuber/model/actor. My YouTube channel is successful with over eight million total views.’
Pick on someone your own size: Van Banter, right, an online star pushing the ‘bait out’ trend, interviews two boys at a Tube station
He also claims to have appeared in adverts for major brands. ‘I have quite a bit of acting experience as I make YouTube videos,’ he says. ‘This includes me acting with people I had just met.’
His manager described his client as a ‘comedian’, adding that he had been ‘singled out’ by the media and made a ‘scapegoat’.
The manager said: ‘He makes funny content. He does not take responsibility for the action of others – what they do or say in his sketches is not Van Banter’s role in these sketches.’
He said it was not right that his client has become the ‘face’ of cyber bullying as ‘he is not bullying anybody or forcing people to say anything. They are doing it of their own will’.
The pair are just two of scores of young people who have turned into internet sensations through the horrific videos. They include ‘YoungMo2k15’, who created a three-part series called ‘Baiting out Slags in Birmingham’ – some of which were viewed more than 40,000 times.
In one clip, filmed on a high street, he asks two schoolboys dressed in their uniform to ‘bait out the biggest slag you know’.
One of the boys, who looks around 14, gives a girl’s full name before adding: ‘She is dirty, she f**** everyone…Even me…Her mum was in the same house.’
One person commenting on the clip wrote: ‘How come the people on here are schoolchildren?’
Last night the man known as Baithead said: ‘The videos that we made had nothing to do with bullying, in fact it was more about complimenting and praising someone. We made videos such as baiting out your crush.
‘If people are actually offended by these videos then we will take action and not make the same mistakes again.
‘If anyone has been affected by these videos ten we are really sorry.’
A spokesman for YouTube said: ‘We remove these videos because we do not allow harassment and bullying on YouTube.’
Classroom blitz on the dangers of ‘baiting out’: Children’s charity will warn school pupils about sharing nude images – amid the terrifying rise of a social media cyberbullying trend
A children’s charity will teach schools about the dangers of pupils sharing nude images – amid the terrifying rise of a social media cyberbullying trend.
Child safety groups are warning that the craze, known as ‘baiting out’, is leading to intimate pictures being shared online and the shaming of unsuspecting teenagers.
Websites that glory in sex slurs
The ‘baiting out’ trend is not just YouTube stars goading schoolchildren into shaming their peers.
There are also ‘bait out’ pages – online groups that invite users to share nude images, videos or sexual gossip about others.
Often a person is only invited to join the groups, found on many social media platforms, once they have ‘baited out’ someone else, meaning they have shared explicit information about them.
It means that children can have sexual images of themselves appear on these online groups, where they are criticised and commented on.
Social media stars practise a more visible form of humiliation, by stopping passing children at shopping centres or stations and pointing a microphone in their faces as they urge them to name and shame others.
They ask questions such as: ‘Bait out the biggest sket [most promiscuous] girl you know’.
In response, those interviewed humiliate their peers and use derogatory language to describe their sexual encounters, with deeply personal information then plastered on the internet for all to see.
To join the groups, users are told to share sexually explicit images, videos or sexual gossip.
Founders of the groups cynically calculate that some children are so desperate to join that they will supply almost anything that is asked – even if that image is then circulated even more widely to humiliate them.
But the craze can also involve youngsters – typically girls – being ‘named and shamed’ in videos shot in the street or shopping centres that are then shared on websites such as YouTube.
Those leading the trend, such as young men known as ‘Van Banter’ and ‘Baithead’, have become online celebrities, with many youngsters looking up to them.
Police and schools are now so concerned that from September, charity Childnet will pilot a scheme in secondary schools in which they work with teachers and provide lesson plans to make it easier for them talk to pupils about the issue.
The charity, which has spoken to scores of young people as part of its research into the topic, will also help teachers understand more about wider online sexual harassment.
The scheme comes as Kent Police revealed that, in the space of one month, more than 40 children in the Thanet area had sent nude images of themselves and fallen victim to a ‘bait out’ group.
One group – which dates back several years – routinely names school children and describes activities they have engaged in.
One post describes a sexual encounter between two girls, accusing them of being ‘dirty lesbians’. The girls named and shamed were in Year 9, meaning they were just 13 or 14 at the time. Years on, the details are still available to be seen by anyone on the internet.
A Childnet report, part of a wider European project called Project deSHAME, found 13 per cent of British youngsters had sent a nude picture to a girlfriend or boyfriend.
In all, 13 per cent of those polled, aged just 11 to 16, had photographed themselves partly or fully naked. Half had gone on to share the image. Rose Bray, of Childline, said young girls feel ‘upset and betrayed’, wracked with guilt and self-blame. They think they have nowhere to turn, fearing their parents would be ashamed of them.
She added: ‘They might have shared an image with someone they thought was part of a trusting relationship and actually have ended up having that image shared wider.
‘Or situations where young people have felt pressured to share an image in the first place…The person they were dating made them feel like it was an expected part of being their girlfriend, and actually a person was never comfortable doing that, but chose to do that as part of their relationship.
‘It felt like a grown-up thing to do, it felt like that is what everyone at school was doing.’
She added: ‘Having feelings like that can have a massive impact on their emotional wellbeing and their mental health.’
The NSPCC’s associate head of online safety Andy Burrows said: ‘It’s very troubling if young people are being coerced, bullied or manipulated into sharing explicit images of themselves, which could then disappear into closed or secret online groups where complete strangers can see and comment on them.
‘That’s why the NSPCC wants it to be as easy to have an image of yourself taken off the internet as it was to post in the first place.
‘We also need the Government to step in and regulate social networks so that grooming and bullying behaviour online is identified and properly dealt with, to help clean up the “Wild West Web” that young people are currently faced with.’
Childnet boss Will Gardner said: ‘We want everybody to better understand this issue and to help support and input a collective response.
‘Part of the challenge is to bring people up to speed with what young people are doing…There is this knowledge gap that we need to be challenging and addressing.’