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Sneaky sexually suggestive filming: Britain is in the grip of a social media trend that raises uncomfortable questions

London Letter: Police have taken an interest in the trend following a flood of complaints, and another issue hovers in the background

The women involved are invariably young and attractive, sometimes inebriated, and almost always they appear dressed in revealing or tightfitting clothing. As they walk or occasionally stumble late at night through city streets, they are unwittingly filmed and the footage is published online.

Britain is in the grip of a social media trend: the surreptitious and sexually suggestive videoing of young women on nights out. They are clearly intended to be suggestive because the footage appears to focus on images of women’s chests, backsides and legs. It is also obvious in most cases that the women are not aware they are being filmed.

The trend is particularly associated with the northwest of England. Its epicentre is Manchester and, to a lesser extent, Liverpool. The videos are commonly found on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube, where they are usually tagged innocuously as “Manchester nightlife” or “Liverpool nightlife”. They also tend to attract reams of sexually explicit comments from other social media users.

Greater Manchester Police (GMP) has taken an interest in the trend following media coverage and also floods of complaints from women who were filmed without their knowledge before discovering the footage online. The force has told journalists that beat officers are now regularly briefed about the issue at the start of late night and weekend shifts, lest they spot people – especially men – filming young women.


GMP has, however, also acknowledged an issue that appears to limit the scope of its potential involvement: in most cases it is perfectly legal in Britain, as it is in Ireland, to film people in a public place without their consent. Some of the videos may be criticised by other social media users as upsetting and “creepy”. But, barring limited exceptions, they probably do not constitute criminal behaviour.

One woman named only as Meg was recently interviewed by the BBC about her experience of being filmed when she was dressed up on a night out. She was walking with two other women late one evening on Deansgate, a busy nightlife area in Manchester, when they were videoed getting into a taxi. Someone later sent her a link to the footage online.

“I have no words really other than it just made me feel a bit sick,” she said. “There’s videos of girls, like, falling over and having their underwear on show and stuff. And then being posted online like that – something really needs to be done about it.”

While filming people in public is not illegal, GMP has suggested there may be criminal behaviour in some cases if the videos can be shown to constitute harassment or stalking or if the filming was an act of public disorder. But as most of the videos are one-offs that were filmed discreetly, it is unclear how such an interpretation might hold up legally. The issue remains untested.

The Guardian on Monday published an interview with two young women, Phoebe Collin and Maddie Laing, who were also filmed without their knowledge in Manchester. In their case, it was during the daytime and they were videoed as they walked along dressed in cycling shorts. “It’s disgusting,” one of the women said. “You can see they’re zooming in and out on our bum cheeks.”

Both were photographed by the Guardian for the interview. In the published pictures, they are looking at the camera while wearing clothing that exposes their cleavage in an obvious way, a highly unusual style of photography for the newspaper. The context for the shots is not commented upon in the article, but it appears likely that it was a deliberate decision by the two women to be photographed in a way that underlines their right to wear what they want.

There is another issue hovering in the background of general reportage of the wider issue. It is uncomfortable for some who work in British media. Certain newspapers have for years published articles that ostensibly chronicle city nightlife, but which are always illustrated with photographs of young people on nights out, including women in revealing clothing.

One mid-market UK tabloid in particular is well known for its obsession with prurient stories about “drunken revellers” in various states, especially around landmark dates such as New Year’s Eve when a pretext for the pictures is more obvious. Sometimes the people pictured in the articles are posing for the camera. Often they are not, which suggests they may not have known they were photographed.

Such stories invariably tend to focus on the nightlife of cities such as Newcastle, Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool, which invites a discussion about the portrayal in London-based media of stereotypes of bawdy northerners.