Authority baiting as art: On patrol with the Love Police
First Monday

Authority baiting as art: On patrol with the Love Police by Thomas Chesney

We study authority baiting on YouTube, videos whose content is constructed around the theme of a filmmaker questioning an authority figure. Using the theoretical context of sousveillance we examine the ideology of these vloggers, the style of their videos, laws and regulations that impact on baiting, and the audience of these performances. We draw conclusions on the existence of this vlogging community based on an imbalance of power. This imbalance stems from the authority figure’s position and from technology. The second of these is now almost completely eroded and these filmmakers are actively trying to erode the first.


1. Introduction
2. Theoretical context
3. Authority baiting key themes
4. Discussion and conclusions



1. Introduction

This paper reports a study of a collection of vloggers (video bloggers), their online channels, and related social media content which centre on what we refer to as authority baiting, by which we mean content constructed around the theme of questioning authority figures. While a suspicious attitude toward those who feel they deserve respect solely because of the uniform they wear may have long existed, the Internet and in particular video sharing sites such as YouTube have given users a platform that allows a new, artistic dimension to showing it off. This artistry involves show business elements such as a recognition of an audience, high definition video and audio with multiple cameras and camera angles, background music, banners, megaphones, and the use of a raised stage, often improvised from what is at hand (such as a fence outside a train station).

A typical scene is as follows: A camera is set up on a high street pointing into a bank or shop. Inevitably a security guard takes an interest and approaches the vlogger. What happens next follows a seemingly universal pattern: 1) the guards verify that filming is taking place, 2) once this is confirmed they tell the vlogger that ‘you cannot film here’ giving 3) the opportunity for an argument. The vlogger is usually arguing from a better informed position than the security guard with a working knowledge of relevant laws and cases, backed up with a moral argument about the number of CCTV cameras filming inside the bank and around the city centre. On at least one occasion the vlogger announces ‘action!’ to the camera as the guard approaches [1].

This simple scene can make for entertaining footage, especially if the security guard responds aggressively. Many variations can be found including filming bailiffs [2], traffic wardens, university campus security, shopping centre security, TV licence enforcers (U.K. only), police, postal workers [3], and anyone else who — in the eyes of the vloggers — expects others’ unquestioning obedience and compliance. While we call this authority baiting, one of the main vloggers we study refers to it as a ‘Reality Rodeo’ which he defines as “filming things people don’t want filmed” [4].

This study is an examination of authority baiting on YouTube with the goal of understanding the purpose, ideology, style, and audience of these videos, as well some of the relevant legal aspects. These key themes were extracted using an approach to studying online communities as described by Bainbridge (2010). Data were collected by repeatedly watching many hours of footage and reading social media posts by the vloggers, engaging with the material through taking field notes and screen shots. Comments posted on YouTube about the videos by others were recorded and analysed. Additional data came from looking at online legal sources. (We deliberately avoided the professional legal literature because the online sources we found are exactly what the vloggers themselves would use to learn about the law, and the intention is not so much to understand the subtleties of the legal system as it is to understand the vloggers’ understanding of it.) The content viewed consists of around 1,000 hours of the YouTube channels of Danny Shine and Charles Veitch (who style themselves as The Love Police, hence the title of this paper), CommonKnownAsDom, some of the videos by Colin Johnson, as well as links to related content as suggested by Google [5].



2. Theoretical context

Authority baiting vloggers are reacting to surveillance and — as they see it — the hypocrisy of surveillance in society. Surveillance is pervasive but is often not well observed (Mann, et al., 2002). In the early 2000s technology writers were already talking about smart floors, smart elevators, and smart light switches that could be used for ubiquitous surveillance inside buildings (Mann and Niedzviecki, 2001). With the popularity of smartphones, tablet computers, intelligent personal assistants, other mobile devices, and even smart TVs, the opportunity for, and the practice of, surveillance inside what were once very private spaces is now all too real (Oulasvirta, et al., 2012; Assange, 2014; Conti, 2009; Humphrey, et al., 2013; Frith, 2014). The imbalance between those who surveil and the inability of those under surveillance to control it has created what, towards the end of the eighteenth century, Jeremy Bentham imagined as a panopticon. The concept referred to the ability of a single watchman to observe all inmates of an institution without them being able to tell whether or not they were being watched. It was a “new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind,” (Bentham, 1843): those with knowledge that they are possibly being observed will correct their behaviour accordingly, regardless of whether or not they are actually being observed. Even before the proliferation of surveillance technology, the concept had already been invoked in 1970s in the context of “disciplinary” societies (Foucault, 1979) to describe observation by the state and employers [6].

In response to what they saw as the emergence of the panopticon, toward the end of the twentieth century some researchers working in the area of wearable technology started to confront surveillance with their technological creations, many of which were wearable cameras (Mann, 2005). These were used to ‘record the recorders’ and essentially asked organisations: ‘how do you like it?’ The term they coined for this was sousveillance and indeed the concept captures closely what the YouTube authority baiters are doing. Mann, et al. [7] describe sousveillance as a performance that uses recording technology to:

  1. uncover the panopticon and undercut its primacy and privilege;
  2. relocate the relationship of the surveillance society within a more traditional commons notion of observability.

These writers claim sousveillance as an act of self-empowerment in opposition to surveillance technologies, an act which reveals and calls into question the asymmetrical nature of surveillance. One clear result from early work into sousveillance is that organisations who themselves are engaged in surveillance will object to people engaging in sousveillance. This result is well reflected in the scene described in the introduction. The remainder of this paper now explores this in greater depth.



3. Authority baiting key themes

3.1. Background and purpose

In 2009, protestors at the G20 London Summit were kettled [8] by London Metropolitan Police for up to seven hours [9]. During this time, newspaper vendor Ian Tomlinson was pushed to the ground by a police constable. Tomlinson later died. Sales associate Charles Veitch was a witness at the inquest into his death. Veitch described himself to the inquest as having an unusual hobby: attending protests and heckling demonstrators [10]. He testified that he had seen Tomlinson fall and had called for a medic. Outside the inquest he met Danny Shine who was holding up a sign saying ‘Everything is OK’. The two struck up a friendship and from this the Love Police was formed. Veitch describes the group as an “absurdist performance art group which concentrates on issues such as the encroaching fear and greed in our society”. The group would regularly hold up signs stating ‘everything is OK’ claiming they were trying to make people realise that everything is not OK: authority figures regularly try to prevent citizens enjoying freedoms to behave in ways that they want to reserve for themselves, such as recording in public spaces and limiting free expression in public spaces. The group say they do not take themselves too seriously and that they try to see the human under the uniform. Indeed, often they offer to hug that human. The best footage they have according to Veitch is when the “facade of the training and the indoctrination of a police officer break[s] down and he looks at you as a fellow human being.”

Another key authority baiter, whose online handle is CommonlyKnownAsDom, says he wants to open people’s eyes to their rights and to question authority. He sees his mission as spreading knowledge on this topic. In one video [11] he records himself wandering through a shopping market counting the number of CCTV cameras that are recording him. He goes on to say in the description of the video, “I do this because I am sick of people that are programmed to believe they have authority over another soul ... Such as this poor excuse for a security man who tried to use the line ‘stop filming the kids’. Funny thing is we caught him manhandling a child well before this video. So [security guard] is the true reason you dont want us to film in the metro centre is because you dont want to be caught out (sic)?”

This is almost identical to Mann’s description of sousveillance given above [12]. Another vlogger in one of his videos puts it this way: “I’m interested to see the authority reaction when we film you guys because we get filmed quite a lot” [13]. However, the authority baiters do not seek only to expose the double standard of wanting to record but not be recorded but rather their motivation is to expose a wider range of hypocrisy by drawing attention to:

  1. Calls for no filming in areas heavily covered by CCTV cameras;
  2. Calls for no megaphoning, often in and around areas where amplified announcements are regularly made (shops and train stations);
  3. Objections to posters and banners in areas where there is advertising;
  4. Objections to those who would enforce a law without understanding it.

3.2. Ideology

Sousveillance theory proposes that authority baiting stems from an imbalance of power (Mann and Ferenbok, 2013). As Mann, et al. (2002) describe it, those undertaking sousveillance are attempting to undercut the primacy and privilege of those in authority who surveil. This imbalance lies both in power which derives from the uniform or badge which the authorities wear but the vloggers cannot, and in technology. Realising that both these are illusory, the vloggers act to demonstrate this to others and thereby remove the imbalance.

Dealing with the first of these, in many societies power which comes from a uniform requires consent: all persons interacting with the authority figure must consent to them having power in order for them to have power. This is often not understood and is one of the things the vloggers wish to emphasise. Even the police in most western societies ‘police by consent’ although we will set the special case of the police aside for a moment and look first at the other authority figures.

Many people will defer to an authority figure and — even if they don’t realise it — give consent to their power without questioning it. Studies have repeatedly shown that individuals do this toward anyone they perceive as an authority figure, and the classic study is undoubtedly Milgram (1963). The vloggers actually discuss this phenomenon in a number of videos: when someone wearing a high visibility vest or a security badge asks a person to stop, or give out personal details, that person almost always complies. There are many baiting videos of vloggers refusing to comply with store security guards in order to highlight that they have no more power to detain them or demand personal details than any other member of pubic. Often the guards clearly do not realise this, giving the videos the powerful drama that the vloggers wish for. An example is and this one even includes a brief ‘you can’t film me’ argument.

When it comes to the police, their powers are certainly not illusory but they do have boundaries. Again however most people do not know where these boundaries lie, or are fearful of crossing them. Therefore they respond with submission to all police requests and this is one of the things that baiters seek to highlight, to — as mentioned before — ‘open people’s eyes to their rights’. We see this time and time again in the authority baiting videos. It can also be seen in many videos suggested by YouTube as related content that we cannot classify as deliberate baiting but feature people stopped by the police who then film the incident. Police invariably request information (such as a driver’s licence or the name and address of the driver) and may even make demands on behaviour (such as ‘get out of the car’ or ‘stand up against the wall’) and the person involved refuses on principle because they ‘know their rights’. This changes when an arrest is made and it does become incumbent on an individual to supply their details but this also involves the police taking on additional responsibilities too (a duty of care and making the reasons for the arrest clear). It is clear from the surprised reaction of the police that the default reaction to their requests among most members of the public is obedience.

The second imbalance is is technological, and of course this has been eroding for some time. Today any smart phone is capable of producing footage good enough for YouTube and more professional equipment is economically viable and light enough to carry.

The vloggers are prepared for arrest and many of them have been arrested several times. In fact, sometimes trips to and from court appearances have become fodder for more videos [14] with the vloggers using it as another opportunity to highlight problems with the way they feel they are being treated by authority figures. The reasons for arrest are typically some sort of breech of peace (the relevant laws are discussed later). Danny Shine for instance has been arrested for using a megaphone in public, a case he won in court (this is discussed later). Charles Veitch was arrested for planning to protest near the procession of the 2011 Royal Wedding in London.

As well as arrests, physical altercations are not common but not unheard of either. In one nasty episode, Charles Veitch was pushed around by a security guard who was working for a television drama who were — ironically — filming in the area and believed Veitch had no right to film [15]. In another video, Veitch was attacked by a member of the public for filming them on the high street [16]. In this instance, Veitch filmed a member of the public who was not constrained by laws or regulations (see Section 3.5) something Veitch would be well aware of, and an altercation ensued which ended in the arrest of the assailant. The arrested party claimed throughout that the Veitch was videoing them without permission, something that the assailant believed was illegal. Veitch knew throughout that the law was on his side, but he would also have known that the other party probably didn’t know this but continued to bait him anyway.

3.3. Style

The videos are not professional so we must be careful not to give the vloggers too much artistic credit for their content. However, in terms of film making the results fit broadly into the cinéma vérité style. Cinéma vérité shows people in everyday situations with authentic dialogue and natural action and can involve stylized set-ups and the interaction between the filmmaker and the subject, even to the point of provocation (Aquino, 2012; Eaton, 1979) and this is what we see on screen. The videos employ improvisation and typically lack a narrator or soundtrack during action. There is sometimes music at the end to accompany a simple credit roll, and the start where there is text to set a scene. One or two handheld cameras are employed, but most commonly only one, held by the vlogger themselves. The cameras used range from mobile phones to those costing up to £1,000 [17]. Where more than one camera is used, post-production editing attempts to piece footage together in a way that tries to deliver impact and add interest to the piece. An example is during an English Defence League march in Cambridge where most of the footage simply follows a parallel protest march, but there are moments where police are filmed and interviewed and two cameras are used cutting from wide shot to close up in the style of many professional documentaries.

In terms of the reporting the style could be called gonzo journalism, a form of journalism which often includes the reporter as part of the story via a first-person narrative (Wozniak, 2014), which lets the audience experience a story through the journalist’s experience. While this is the style presented in the videos, we again need to be careful in assigning credit, as it is likely not down to any deliberate choice on the part of the vlogger but may be more due to the constraints that they face. Budget and time factors mean that vloggers are unable to ‘chase a story’ as professional journalists would, which involves travelling to a place where there is a naturally occurring scene which highlights what it is they are trying to capture. It is much easier to bait local authority figures into providing scenes that they can record.

3.4. Laws & defence

The vloggers are well versed in relevant laws and regulations, and it is noted that different tensions arise when baiting police than when baiting other authorities who are less knowledgeable of the law as the police. In the U.K. — as in the U.S. and many Western countries — the position is that it is legal to take photographs and record videos in public. London Metropolitan Police for example state on their Web site that “members of the public and the media do not need a permit to film or photograph in public places and police have no power to stop them filming or photographing incidents or police personnel” [18]. There are some exceptions to this and arguments frequently erupt over what constitutes public land — while it may be true that an organisation owns the land that a shopping market or train station is built on, both are morally very public spaces and this is usually key to the debate. However there are gaps in the knowledge of all groups: many instances can be found of the police, other authority figures, and vloggers themselves being quick to claim that children have particular protection but in fact, in many countries, there is no such law. It is understandable that vloggers who know this do not want to make an issue out of it as it is likely that few audience members would be sympathetic to a video where filming children was the spark used to bait authority.

The basic tension with authorities other than the police stems from a right the vloggers know they have — the right to film in pubic — and a law of privacy that the authority believe exists but in fact does not. Repeatedly, authority figures (sometimes including the police: for an example see at 1:00) will claim “you cannot film me without permission” which as the Metropolitan Police quotation shows, is in fact not correct: there can be no expectation of privacy in a public place.

When faced with baiting, police will often request ‘details’ by which is meant name and address. The vloggers we study are universally reluctant to give out their name and other details, insisting on being arrested before they do this. Again the vloggers are well versed on the law, which is similar in the U.K. and U.S.: details only need to be given when police are making an arrest or are reporting someone for an offence [19]. This changes when the individual is driving and some vloggers who attempt authority baiting from their car have come unstuck on this point. Other evidence of the limits of the vloggers knowledge are on display. In one video [20] a policeman is criticised for wearing a uniform similar to a SS uniform, but the policeman’s pre-dates it by over 100 years.

Another common legal objection comes from laws centred on public nuisance. In the U.K., Section 5 of the Public Order Act for instance legislates against threatening or abusive words or behaviour or disorderly behaviour is often quoted in response to authority baiting. To a lesser extent the Local Government Act is also drawn upon in relation to the same thing. This act was used against Danny Shine using a megaphone in public [21]. This case actually went to court and Shine won with Lord Justice Holland stated “amplified expression of ideas is fully legal as long as you don’t single out a member of the public.”

A sadly more common tactic from the police in response to baiting is to turn to laws created to deal with terrorism. There are two aspects to this — terrorism laws that prevent photography and terrorism laws that allow for stop and search including giving details. Counter terrorism laws (for instance the Terrorism Act 2000 and the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 in the U.K.) outlaw the publishing or sending of a photograph or video of the police, a member of the armed forces, or a member of the security services, which is of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism. However footage shot by vloggers contains no more information that what can found on Google Street View.

Stop and search laws (Police and Criminal Evidence Act ‘PACE’ in the U.K.) gives a police officer powers to stop an individual at any time and ask what they are doing, why they are in an area, and where they are going. Again however the vloggers we study choose not to comply with any such requests. in most cases this seems to stem more from a principle rather than from a desire to create exciting footage [22].

In addition to knowing their rights in the face of questioning by authority figures, vloggers are well aware of the laws governing the behaviour of those authorities. For instance the uniformed police in the U.K. and U.S. must identify themselves by their badge number which should be displayed on their shoulder. Other authorities have professional bodies which dictate how they should behave. As one example, the Security Industry Authority issues licenses to those working in the private security industry. Licenses are compulsory and for a security professional, losing it means losing their job.

3.5. Audience

The audience can be divided into two, unequal parts. The smaller section is the ‘live audience’, those who are present on the street to observe the filming. Often vloggers ignore them but some, Danny Shine in particular, will try to build up a crowd and interact with them. The reactions to this are mixed but fall into three broad categories:

1. Bewilderment
2. Support

Support often reveals an in-group/out-group effect, with passers-by offering verbal support to the vloggers — a group they perceive themselves as being in because they and the vlogger are not wearing a uniform — because they are questioning an authority figure who is the out group.

3. Aggression

In a short section of one video [23], Charles Veitch talks to passers-by at Whitehall in London and largely by accident as he clearly doesn’t expect a response, baits a mounted cavalry officer who breaks his silence in order to swear at him. At the time Veitch is talking about unjust wars and how the young officer is part of an “immoral war machine” when the live audience turn on him and criticise him for being all talk and no action. Veitch defends himself by pointing to his own time (six months) in the military, which only encourages the crowd who respond by laughing at this admission. In a rare instance of what we might call public baiting [24], Danny Shine deliberately launches an argument with a member of the public. The scene follows the usual script with the added unpredictability of the star not being restrained by the rules that bind professionals.

The larger audience is online: those who watch on YouTube. Some of this audience post comments on the videos using the YouTube site. The videos have widely varying numbers of comments, from around 200 up to 12,000. The videos with the most comments are those that ‘push particular buttons’ among the audience. For instance the video with the most comments featured ‘Islam’ in the title and compared this religion with Rastafari. We analysed comments and needless to say, the audience is split between those who support baiting and those who criticise it. In addition there are many comments that do not take either position such as ‘love your hat man’ and comments about the background music that is used.

We conducted a simple sentiment analysis [25] and the negative and positive comments of the ten randomly chosen videos we examined were found to be evenly split: five had slightly more positive comments, five had slightly more negative (Table 1). We then analysed the 100 most recent comments made on YouTube on another ten of the Love Police videos using a simple content analysis method. Findings do not show much more than the sentiment analysis except that the comments in any one video are not always as evenly spilt as in the videos from Table 1. For instance, in one video [26] the comments are overwhelming negative towards the Love Police:

The officer at the start was nothing but polite and calm, and you shouting in his face and not letting him answer your questions makes you and your cause look worse. Don’t be that guy.

This is the one video where I would say you are instigating indirectly public disorder.

Sorry Charlie, I have a lot of time for what you do, but police 1 Charlie 0. Own goal. What a thoroughly decent policeman who really didn’t deserve your very rude berating.

In another video [27] the tide turns the other way:

Frig I like these videos, gonna do a quick share on FB

u guys are really really good, and have perfect arguments, but i dont understand the whole hugging thing, if you want your to send your message to a bigger public u better stop that, but please come to the Netherlands 1 day!

the hug is a way to say we are all the same. Behind the uniform, there is a human being.

In general, members of the Love Police do not respond much to the comments but do occasionally. In response to the negative comments above Veitch responds with: “Loving all the angry comments ... ahahhahahaahha. Just keep watching, ok?”


Table 1: Counts of positive and negative words in ten Love Police videos.
VideoPositive wordsNegative words




4. Discussion and conclusions

Authority baiting represents an interesting use of video sharing web technology and we speculate that without the ability to share content, authority baiting simply would not exist. However, the existence of YouTube alone does not explain this activity. Instead we postulate that authority baiting exists because an imbalance of power leads to extreme reactions among those of lower power when they are given tools that they perceive give them some ability to re-balance. Wikileaks is a good example. While many people may believe in its goals, it is still very extreme in its publishing philosophy. Sci-Hub is another example. Many scientists clearly believe in its stance but again it is engaging in illegal behaviour.

Authority baiters are not going to such extreme lengths but their actions are in that same direction, especially given their willingness to suffer arrest for their art. Authority baiters are picking up the mantle thrown down by wearable technology pioneers of the late 1990s who filmed their lives in order to make a principled stand against hypocrisy. While their impact was limited, and the effects of today’s authority baiters is limited, arguably they reach a large section of the general public and eventually help some people resist notions of a digital, universal panopticon. End of article


About the author

Thomas Chesney is Associate Professor in Information Systems in the Nottingham University Business School.
E-mail: thomas [dot] chesney [at] nottingham [dot] ac [dot] uk



1., published 24 June 2013. The scene mentioned occurs at around 3:30 mins in.

2. Bailiffs (and those from some of the other professions listed) do not wear a uniform but should identify themselves when asked. Likewise security guards do not have to wear a uniform but according to Security Industry Authority regulation must display their identity.


4. This definition is taken from, published 22 May 2014 and appears at around 11.00 minutes.

5. The links to the relevant channels are:
The videos suggested by YouTube were ‘related content’ based on ‘how videos contribute to a viewing session.’ Google explain this as follows: “Previously, the YouTube algorithm suggested videos (whether related videos on the watch page or recommended videos elsewhere on the site) based on how many people clicked to watch a video ... Starting March 14th 2012, the algorithm for suggesting videos will also be based on which videos contribute to a longer overall viewing session rather than how many clicks an individual video receives. This is great for viewers because they’ll be able to watch more enjoyable content; moreover, this is great for creators because it can help build more focused and engaged audiences.”

6. Hume, 1970, p. 6.

7. Mann, et al., 2002, p. 333.

8. Kettling is a controversial method of controlling a crowd in which police form lines around the crowd and prevent people from leaving a particular area.

9. Police ‘kettle’ tactic feels the heat, published 16 April 2009.


11., published 6 February 2013.

12. Mann, et al., 2002, p. 333.

13. at 3:50.




17. This is revealed in the description of the video:




21. at 2:40 mins.

22. For more information about these rights see

23. The argument begins at 11:10 mins.


25. Using the statistical software R and the CRAN package ‘tuber’ (, we scraped comments from YouTube and counted the number of positive and negative words using word lists taken from





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Editorial history

Received 23 November 2016; accepted 21 November 2017.

Creative Commons License
This paper is in the Public Domain.

Authority baiting as art: On patrol with the Love Police
by Thomas Chesney.
First Monday, Volume 22, Number 12 - 4 December 2017

A Great Cities Initiative of the University of Illinois at Chicago University Library.

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