'It felt very predatory': Women worried to go out after 'creepy' social media nightlife filming

Words by Elliot Turnbull, ITV News Producer

Chelle Todd-Brown was unknowingly filmed while making her way to a night out in Manchester.

She only found out through a friend, after a video of her walking in the city was posted on social media. That friend was among 14 million people to have watched it.

Ms Todd-Brown said she did not want to be filmed by a stranger, or have thousands of other strangers criticising her appearance on social media.

"It's definitely made me think twice about going out now. I feel more on edge, it's concerning," she told ITV News in an interview.

Derogatory and misogynist terms also featured regularly in the comments section.

"We've become so desensitised to what we see on social media. Any girl who reads these comments can be deeply affected, they’re horrible," Ms Todd-Brown added.

There has been an increase in these "predatory" videos posted on TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram.

The up-close filming only focuses on women, often capturing them while drunk and vulnerable.

Sometimes they are followed closely but they appear to be unaware the camera is there.

Police are encouraging people to report 'predatory' filming if they feel stalked or harassed.

An active comments section helps these videos get more views and - more often than not - those comments are sexist.

From critiquing people's appearance, to suggesting that they "deserve" to be sexually assaulted, engagement is high. 

While Ms Todd-Brown was filmed in Manchester, this growing trend is nationwide.

Videos under the hashtags #LondonNightlife, #BirminghamNightlife and #LiverpoolNightlife have seen a similar rise in popularity.

Not only can the consequences affect someone's mental health, the actions and filming can even be deemed as harassment or stalking. 

While the majority of nightlife filming is legal, Amy Adams posted a video on TikTok questioning the ethics and culture of this subsection focusing on women during a night out.

She has appeared in two of these videos and shared the hateful comments that she received after a video of her and her friends went viral. 

"Bunch of hookers, with what they’re wearing they're asking for it. The way people dress is so vulgar, it's shocking to see what the streets look like", one of the comments said.

For Ms Adams, receiving these comments on a video that she does not want to be in is hard to get her head around: "It's really strange to see this happening. I haven’t consented to being on a video, so why am I now being used on someone's account to get all these hate comments?"

"It opens me up to being objectified and it is not something that I've consented to.

"Now when I go out I'm looking for this cameraman. Not something I thought I’d have to look out for. When you're going out already you have enough to worry about: being spiked, the strange people you encounter, this adds another element to that", she added. 

Is all filming in public legal?

In a public setting, it is legal to record someone without their consent. There are many nightlife videos in the UK that focus on large crowds - there is nothing legally wrong with this. 

But the way in which this is done, and the way in which the recordings are used, may be illegal.

The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 states that you can be prosecuted if you are threatening, stalking, intimidating, or causing distress to someone to obtain their photograph.

Greater Manchester Police's Chief Inspector Stephen Wiggins said: "Broadly speaking, people can film in public. It's not illegal to do that.

"But, if someone is persistently filming a young person in the city centre that can be classed as stalking, harassment, or public order offences."

So far, nobody has directly brought a report of filming like this to Greater Manchester Police.

"The big thing for me is to report it to the police", the Chief Inspector added.

Charlotte Rouse and her friends were also filmed unknowingly.

Despite not seeing anyone film her, a year after the night out, a minute-long video emerged on social media. 

"They followed us for quite some time, it was for a minute. It didn't seem like they were videoing our outfits, and we were being filmed from right behind, across the road, in front of us, loads of different angles," she told ITV News.

"The person who was filming was videoing us for a long time, it was creepy. I felt almost like I was being stalked. It felt very predatory, very creepy, almost as if this person was preying on us.

"My main concern is safety. I don't want men to watch these videos and think it's normal or ok to film or follow women on a night out or at any kind of day or follow them down the street."

As Ms Rouse did not see anyone filming, she did not report anything unusual to the police.

Aside from the legality of filming in public, media lawyer Yair Cohen reiterates how some of the comments and ways of filming these videos may not be lawful. 

"Quite often when you publish these types of videos, you attract comments, and the comments are intended to be provocative. Quite often this causes the subject of the video to feel harassed, and alarmed and distressed", he told ITV News. 

"We've got two main issues here. First, is the harassment that those videos are causing. And second, the invasion, the invasion of those individuals' privacy."

Across social media platforms, Mr Cohen has seen a rise of people bringing cases like this to him: "We have certainly seen an increase in those types of activities where unsuspecting individuals suddenly become 'famous'".

Who regulates these types of videos? 

Social media platforms are responsible for regulating the content that is on their site. 

In January, TikTok banned an account that had more than 10.5 million likes and 433k followers posting this type of content. 

"Misogyny is prohibited on TikTok and is called out as a hateful ideology in our Community Guidelines. Any content found to violate these guidelines will be removed from the platform," the social media giant told ITV News. 

"While the vast majority of violative content removed from TikTok is done so proactively (96.1% in Q3 2023), we also encourage our community members to use the tools we provide on TikTok to report any content or account they believe violates our Community Guidelines."

Promoting or threatening violence and and promoting content that depicts non-consensual sex acts such as rape or molestation are examples where TikTok would permanently ban accounts under their guidelines. 

YouTube's Community Guidelines also have clear policies in place that prohibit explicit content that is intended to be sexually gratifying. The platform aims to not do not allow content that depicts non-consensual sex acts or unwanted sexualisation. 

Action is being taken by social media companies, but these videos are often copied and resurface on different platforms under different usernames. 

For Ms Adams, it took months for TikTok to remove her video. This hasn’t stopped it from resurfacing on different platforms under different usernames. 

"My main concerns are that even though the videos have been taken down, who knows where else they are," she said.

"I know they are on other platforms like YouTube, they’re still very much existing. There needs to be some sort of protection in place to stop these being on the internet."

Mr Cohen said the law and regulation needs to change: "Some of the laws that we currently have in relation to taking videos and images of people and posting them to the public are not particularly up to date.

"The courts have been extremely helpful. They are trying to do whatever they can to bring the law more up to date. But certainly we need more clear laws coming from Parliament to make sure that those boundaries are not blurred. The same rules should apply in the online world, as they are the offline one."

What can you do if you are in one of these videos? 

TikTok, YouTube, and Meta said that they will take down videos that violate their community guidelines. TikTok have permanently removed the account that filmed Ms Adams in Manchester. 

To get videos removed, you need to report it. Categories like "Hate and Harassment" and "Sharing Personal Information" could be used if the filming is repetitive and in the same place. 

Mr Cohen reminds people that if they are filmed in an unlawful way, the police should help them feel safe. 

"If you feel harassed, and if you feel distressed, you should really report this to the police because that would indicate that you are being harassed. 

"A lot of people don't realise that they are being harassed. Because it is not something that you learn in school, it is something you simply feel and if you feel distress and if you feel harassed, and if you feel anxiety, this is where you are being harassed and you should go and report this to the police. 

"First try and have the posts removed. And if you can not have it removed, then get in touch with the police."