Can you recall two years ago, when news outlets revealed that some Telegram channels were selling nudes of individuals without their permission?
If you don’t, our police were moving to shut down Telegram channels that objectified women and glorified rape, as well as those who sold other people’s nudes.
Immediately after discovering these channels, Telegram removed them and issued a public statement saying they would not tolerate such conduct on their platform.
We take it that everything has been resolved, but that’s not the case at all.
After the media stopped covering this story, the Telegram channels were reactivated, and now, things seem to be worse than before.
While browsing Shopee for my weekly fix of online retail therapy, I came upon an advertisement last week that had me speechless.
I chose to read the description of their posting since I was intrigued by the possibility of what was hiding behind the seemingly innocent advertisement.
If you are unfamiliar with the dynamics of these Telegram groups, you may miss the subtle references made in this advertisement.
I asked myself, “LM? What is LM? What could this Telegram channel be about? Why is this ad showing photos of men?”
I decided to practice what moderate critical thinking skills I had to dig deeper into the abnormal advertisement.
I loudly came to the epiphany that it could potentially mean Lelaki Melayu (Malay men) or Lelaki Malaysia (Malaysian men). Thoughts and prayers to my boyfriend who was sitting next to me whom I shocked with this revelation.
Upon further inspection, the ad revealed that it was indeed advertising Lelaki Melayu Malaysia (Malay Men of Malaysia).
We suspected that Shopee is similarly unaware of the situation. We have personally reached out to Shopee regarding this matter to notify them and put an end to this organised cybercrime. The following is their response.
“As soon as we were made aware of this case, we removed the listing and permanently banned the seller’s account. We are also prepared to work with the authorities in any of their investigations into the matter,” said a Shopee spokesperson earlier today.
”At Shopee, we take a strict zero-tolerance approach to the sale of prohibited items on our platform, and are committed to providing all our users with a safe, reliable, and enjoyable shopping experience,” they added.
“We take preemptive measures to intercept offending listings from being posted on the platform. However, in isolated cases where determined bad actors may manage to evade these screening processes, we take immediate action to protect the Shopee community and continue to strengthen the screening criteria.”
Now, let’s focus back to our main course.
Soon after, the journalist in me kicked in, and I started to look into this strange realm where so many people seemed to be tweeting photos of other naked people.
For the uninitiated, I’m talking about Twitter’s seedier underbelly known as the DS (Dark Side).
How hard could it be to find these Telegram channels?
In order to find DS accounts advertising these Telegram channels, I made a fake account using a photo of my boyfriend (sorry, babe) with his face and tattoos blocked out and then searched for obscene terms.
Within a few minutes, I had completed the task.
Here are a few Twitter accounts I noticed selling other people’s nudes on their Telegram channels.
One user had “Want to join our channel? PM for Telegram links,” written in their bio.
Another user had something similar in their bio as well saying, “Want to join our Telegram channel? Click on the link below.”
Lastly, the most disgusting bio I could find read, “A video collection of Malaysian men masturbating in front of their webcam. Follow our Telegram channel to see more hot videos and photos!”
If I included screenshots from each of these accounts as evidence of my claims, this article would be far longer than our declaration of independence.
These Twitter accounts have thousands of followers and they would also brag about how many subscribers they have on their Telegram channel.
After some digging, I was able to identify the specific Telegram group where the Shopee link was being discussed. The channel was made public and the seller wrote, “How to buy our package? Purchase straight from our Shopee store.”
While I was only on that fake Twitter account I made for 30 minutes, I stumbled upon a Twitter account selling their subscription to underaged girls and boys.
I could provide you with the screenshots of said account, but I was sick to my stomach and decided to not contribute to this problem even further.
I felt compelled to write a news piece on this issue, so I spoke with two people, “Maya” and “Mariam,” who had been victimised by criminals operating via Telegram channels.
The following is my interview with these victims that highlight the impact of subscribing to these channels. Disclaimer: We have changed their names to protect their privacy.
How old were they when their explicit photos were leaked?
“I was 15 (in the photos), but only found out about them being spread when I was nearly 16,” said Maya with tears slowly building up in her eyes.
I proceeded to ask if she wanted to continue with the interview to which she replied, “I must.”
The same question was directed to Mariam, “I was 22 and had just finished my diploma,” they said.
How did they find out that their photos were being spread online without their permission?
“First, it was a message from a fake account on Instagram who sent my own pics back to me asking for more, calling me sexy and wild,” said Maya.
Maya continued to explain that her photos, which were taken when she was a minor, were spread to her neighbourhood and people never stopped taunting her.
Mariam replied to the same question saying, “I was actually at a sleepover at my friend’s. A friend of mine then received a DM (direct message) from a boy who told her that her friend is really hot and sent the photo of me, unprovoked.”
Mariam continued to say that they immediately broke down in tears as the photos shared were an act of revenge porn done by their former partner who was with them for 4 years.
“I didn’t say anything to my friend and just called my mom to pick me up,” said Mariam.
How did they initially react?
“I did not make a police report because I thought it would just die out like every other thing on the internet. I didn’t want to admit they were mine so I never acknowledged them as only half my face could be seen anyway,” said Maya.
“But it went on for years and the final message came when I was 19. After that, I deleted all my photos, deactivated my account and took a social media hiatus for over a year.”
“I was angry and upset at myself. I was depressed for months,” said Mariam.
Mariam then stated that they couldn’t possibly lodge a police report as their family didn’t know that their photos were being shared and they could’ve potentially been disowned.
“I knew who spread the photos anyway. I knew what I needed to do,” Mariam concluded.
How long did it take for them to heal from the trauma? Did they seek professional help for their mental health?
“I believe that I have never and will never heal from it. I’ve barely opened up about it and as of now, I have only told 3 people about it including you,” said Maya.
“I still think about it until this day,” said Mariam.
Why did they agree to be interviewed on this topic?
“Because for me, I desperately needed to hear how other people dealt with it. I needed to know that life could go on,” said Maya.
Maya then explained that she texted a few girls who fell victim to the same crime to ask how they got through it.
“They never did get through it, by the way, they just stopped letting it define them,” she added.
Mariam answered, “Because how much longer do we have to be silent when this happens to us? How many victims does it take for these f***ers to learn that this is wrong?”
Since these Telegram channels are still active, what is their advice to the public?
“Unfortunately, there is no safe way to express ourselves sexually via digital forms as of yet. No one can be trusted,” Maya replied.
She continued to explain that even if you send these photos to someone who does not spread them, other people might have ways to get their hands on them.
“If you want to send nudes, try to make sure they cannot be tied to you. No face, no identification marks. There’s no way to undo it once it happens because the internet is unforgiving, so all we can do is prevent it,” Maya concluded.
“Report every single one of these channels. You might be happy jacking off to some random girl online, but soon that’s your own sister, your cousin, your best friend or heck, even your mom!” said Mariam.
Mariam also added that the public should never blame the victims if this happened to them.
Making money off of sexually graphic photos of others is an ongoing issue. It’s past time to take a stand against this problem and inform everyone around us of the consequences of this kind of illegal behaviour.
Do not hesitate to report any and all of these channels to Shopee, Telegram, Twitter, or any other service where you may have discovered them.
“We would also like to encourage users to reach out to Shopee if they encounter similar listings on our platform. Users can reach out to us via the menu circle at the top right-hand corner of any product listing and click on the “Report this Product” option.” said a Shopee spokesperson.
Remember what Mariam said, it could happen to your mother.