They are preying on children as part of a disturbing online trend known as "baiting out". Picture: Pexels

London - 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.

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.

In some cases, the young people the teenagers are "shaming" are named in full, along with the school they attend.

READ: The young YouTube stars making sex swaps 'cool'

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.

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.