Monday, March 20, 2023

They released a sex video to shame and silence her. She’s one of many women in Myanmar doxxed and abused on Telegram by supporters of the military | CNN

Editor’s Note: This story is a part of ‘Systems Error’, a collection by CNN As Equals, investigating how your gender shapes your life on-line. For details about how CNN As Equals is funded and extra, try our FAQs.


In the summer time of 2021, Chomden was overseas, hundreds of miles away from her house in Myanmar, when a pal despatched her an pressing message informing her that an intimate video of her was being shared on-line.

When she noticed the message, the 25-year-old stated she froze “like a statue,” her cellphone falling from her hand. She had simply been doxxed.

A video of a unadorned Chomden – whose identify has been modified to guard her identification – having intercourse with a former boyfriend, alongside along with her identify and Facebook profile image, was circulating on a public channel on the messaging platform Telegram, and most of the group’s roughly 10,000 followers had begun sending her abusive messages.

It had been simply six months since Myanmar’s civilian chief Aung San Suu Kyi was faraway from energy in a navy coup led by General Min Aung Hlaing, who arrange the State Administration Council (SAC) and now governs the nation’s caretaker authorities as an unelected prime minister.

Chomden had been on vacation on the time of the February 1 coup, and felt too scared to return house, however she says she had additionally felt obligated to talk out on social media in regards to the plight of Myanmar’s individuals and the junta’s swift and brutal repression of crucial voices, sharing video testimonies from individuals nonetheless within the nation.

Far away from house, she had assumed she can be secure from any reprisals for her criticism of the ruling junta, however Chomden had not thought-about the opportunity of on-line retribution.

Now, months after the coup, her as soon as non-public video had been made public – on a channel run by supporters of the navy and used to flow into propaganda and dox individuals believed to oppose the SAC. Chomden’s Facebook image included a filter displaying the flag of Myanmar’s shadow authorities, the National Unity Government (NUG), figuring out her as a supporter of the nation’s deposed, democratically elected authorities.

The accompanying textual content on the Telegram submit, written in Burmese by the channel administrator, learn: “The whore who is having sex with everyone and recording it in HD… Know your position, slut!”

She was additionally blackmailed by strangers claiming to have extra movies of her, she says, and with no assist system close by, Chomden felt misplaced. The fallout from the submit took such a toll on her psychological well being that she stated: “I have to admit that I even thought of killing myself.”

“They wanted to destroy my life,” she instructed CNN.


After the coup two years in the past, as state repression intensified, civilians got here collectively to defend cities and villages, and a few insurgent armies with an extended historical past of battle in opposition to the navy united below the People’s Defence Force (PDF), armed models aligned with the shadow authorities.

Fighting has since displaced a whole lot of hundreds of individuals and plenty of now concern a deepening civil war.

But battle in Myanmar just isn’t solely taking place on the bottom; assaults are prevalent on-line, and doxxing has emerged as a software used extensively by supporters of the junta to threaten and silence individuals they see as their opponents.

Doxxing is the act of publicly figuring out or publishing “private information about someone as a form of punishment or revenge” – and women and men are being focused in numerous methods.

When males are focused, posts sometimes insinuate that they’re linked to terrorist teams working to deliver down the junta, a number of consultants from NGOs and digital rights teams within the area instructed CNN. But when girls are doxxed, the assaults steadily characteristic sexist hate speech, usually coupled with specific sexual imagery and video footage of them, as was Chomden’s expertise.

And in Myanmar, merely sharing the names and faces of individuals presupposed to assist democracy can put these individuals liable to arrest, whereas exposing non-public movies and images topics them and their whole households to societal disgrace.

Separate analyses by CNN and NGOs working in Myanmar reveals that is all taking place extensively on Telegram (which grew in significance after the navy ordered Facebook to be temporarily blocked following the coup and has continued to dam entry since then), and activists are calling on the messaging firm’s Russian homeowners to take pressing motion to cease this violence being perpetuated by means of their app.

A CNN evaluation recognized a whole lot of sexual movies and pictures utilized in pro-military Telegram channels abusing girls, usually for having pro-democracy views, and a whole lot extra utilizing sexual phrases to realize the identical objective. A separate evaluation by Myanmar Witness – a challenge run by the UK-based Centre for Information Resilience that makes use of open-source instruments to uncover human rights abuses – in collaboration with grassroots group Sisters2Sisters published recently checked out a couple of million Telegram posts following the coup and located additional proof of this.

“We saw that (up to) 90% of the abusive posts were perpetrated by channels that appear to be pro-military and pro-SAC and ultra-nationalist groups … targeted towards pro-democracy women,” Me Me Khant, who led the Myanmar Witness analysis, instructed CNN.

A group of women hold torches as they protest against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar July 14, 2021.

CNN commissioned an information science firm with data of Myanmar to investigate ten public pro-military Telegram channels energetic between the onset of the coup and the tip of 2022, recognized as containing among the many biggest quantity of sexual imagery and video footage. CNN just isn’t naming the corporate due to considerations about their security. More than 178,000 posts have been shared in that timeframe, with one channel having greater than 42,000 followers on the time of research.

Sexual messages have been posted steadily (1,199 posts) and of those, sexually specific photos (204) and sexual movies (187) have been widespread. Almost the entire photos and movies (98%) focused girls, usually utilizing sexually specific language in accompanying posts that criticized their pro-democracy views. Chomden’s video was circulating in one of many channels analyzed – nearly six months after it was first posted elsewhere.

In a public Telegram channel monitored individually by CNN, misogyny was commonplace and the discharge of girls’s names and addresses commonplace. One submit noticed an administrator profusely insult a girl for supporting the pro-democracy motion, utilizing offensive sexual language, and questioning her fertility. The submit included the traces (initially in Burmese): “Because of her bad attitude, she could not get pregnant.” Other posts launched addresses calling for ladies to be discovered and arrested, or their properties and companies closed down.

The current Myanmar Witness report supplied additional proof of this abuse on-line, concentrating on each outstanding girls and ladies basically. The group analyzed greater than 1.6 million posts throughout 100 Telegram channels, which included channels recognized as pro-military (64) and pro-democracy (36). Of the channels they noticed, posts containing abusive phrases concentrating on girls elevated eight-fold, from fewer than 5 posts per day on common within the first months after the February 2021 coup to greater than 40 on common by July 2022, with greater than 80 abusive posts on some days.”

An extra evaluation of the content material of the messages by the non-profit appeared on the varieties of abuse and hate speech in 220 posts throughout Telegram, Facebook and Twitter (the bulk on Telegram) and located that no less than half of the posts have been doxxing girls in obvious retaliation for his or her political opinions or actions, the bulk concentrating on girls seen as pro-democracy. Of the doxxing posts analysed, 28% included an specific name for the focused girls to be punished offline. The “overwhelming majority” of abusive posts got here from male-presenting profiles supportive of Myanmar’s navy coup, concentrating on girls who opposed the coup, the report states.

Myanmar Witness highlights of their report that the information gathered throughout their investigation is “highly likely” to symbolize only a small pattern of politically motivated on-line abuse geared toward girls. The identical applies to the CNN evaluation, that means this possible reveals simply the tip of the iceberg, because the analyses have been solely of public channels and never non-public teams or messages.

Multiple consultants expressed concern to CNN about hyperlinks between these channels and the navy, and the report goes on to counsel that some pro-military Telegram channels seem like coordinating with the navy itself, doxxing girls who oppose it and seeming to ensure the junta is conscious of personal particulars that might be used to find and arrest them. It highlights two instances of girls being arrested shortly after being doxxed and of posts celebrating, or claiming credit score for, their arrests.

“We’ve seen two high profile cases where two well-known women were arrested right after being doxxed. The channels also rejoiced after their arrests. When such things happen, you can’t help but wonder: what if they weren’t doxxed, would they still have been arrested — at the time?,” Khant instructed CNN.

Wai Phyo Myint, Asia Pacific coverage analyst at digital rights group Access Now explains the big selection of great offline penalties. “People [are] being arrested, blackmailed or forced into exile. Some have lost their livelihoods after their businesses and homes have been sealed off following the doxxing, others have had to go into hiding,” she instructed CNN.

The Myanmar navy didn’t reply to CNN’s requests for remark.

Myanmar Witness did see some abuse and doxxing on Telegram channels figuring out as pro-democracy, however to a a lot smaller diploma. In response to this, Aung Myo Min, Minister of Human Rights for the National Unity Government acknowledged that gender inequality was an issue within the nation. “Harassment based on gender or sexual orientation is very common in Myanmar, on both sides,” Myo Min instructed CNN, including that “it clearly shows the need (for) work, education and explanation needed on gender equality.” But he additionally known as on social media platforms to take motion and create a greater reporting system. “They have their part (in the) responsibilities,” he stated.

In a press release to CNN, Telegram spokesperson Remi Vaughn reiterated the Terms of Service and wrote: “Telegram is a platform for free speech. However, sharing private information (doxxing) and calling for violence are explicitly forbidden by our Terms of Service.”

CNN was unable to establish clear guidelines on doxxing within the platform’s Terms of Service however did see that the selling of violence and sharing of unlawful pornographic content material on “publicly viewable Telegram channels, bots, etc” was prohibited. The platform additionally supplies an electronic mail – – to report this content material.

When CNN {followed} up with Telegram concerning guidelines of doxxing – or the shortage thereof – on their publicly accessible Terms of Service they didn’t reply.

The Global Justice Center, a world human rights and humanitarian regulation group working to advance gender equality, produced a report in 2015 that describes gender stereotypes as pervasive in Myanmar and supported by non secular, cultural, political, and conventional practices.

“Women in Burma are generally understood to be secondary to men,” the report acknowledged, and within the eight years since its publication, little has modified, believes Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center.

She believes the mainstream view of girls in Myanmar continues to be considered one of them “being quiet, being docile,” and of their our bodies seen “as a public collateral,” and, in her opinion, the assaults on girls in pro-military Telegram teams mirror what the navy itself would do.

“The Myanmar military has, for decades, used sexual and gender-based violence as a targeted weapon,” Radhakrishnan instructed CNN. “Women and women’s bodies are really viewed in a very narrow mindset by the military, and that reflects on the acts that they perpetrate against women, whether that is physical violence, whether that is other types of violence, the latest being the use of technology.”

But girls have lengthy performed a task within the nation’s pro-democracy motion, as soon as led by ousted chief Aung San Suu Kyi, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her dedication to the trigger. Following the coup, girls have been pivotal in organizing pro-democracy protests and consultants consider doxxing assaults started and progressively obtained worse as extra girls joined these protests.

Anti-coup protesters march in Yangon, Myanmar on March 8, 2022 to mark International Women's Day.

“A woman who is shamed for her body, a woman who is shamed for sexual activities, that means that that woman does not have value within the society anymore,” Radhakrishnan stated.

After she was doxxed, Chomden instructed CNN that it was solely a matter of hours earlier than she started to be sexually harassed and bullied on-line. The messages got here pouring in, first from strangers abusing her, then, she stated, from mates appalled by her “shameful” conduct as phrase unfold throughout the neighborhood.

Chomden stated that her mom, nonetheless a resident in Myanmar, bore the brunt of the assault: she didn’t depart her home for 3 months out of concern of being shamed and ostracized by individuals who’d seen or heard in regards to the video.

Chomden continues to assist the NUG, however feels scared to return house after the coup, particularly because the navy had issued an arrest warrant in opposition to her for her activism in April 2021, however the video made the concept much more terrifying: “How could I … with so much shame?,” she instructed CNN.

Victoire Rio, a digital rights activist working in Myanmar believes that doxxing is an element of a bigger technique to get individuals to “censor themselves”.

“If I should put a timeline to this,” Rio instructed CNN, “you will see that immediately after the coup, the military were going after anybody that had the potential to rally people: that’s influencers, movie stars, key activists, sort of local influential figures.”

Rio defined that this was completed by charging them below penal code 505 for talking out in opposition to the navy, which according to Human Rights Watch, was amended to punish a broader vary of critics of the coup and the navy. But “that wasn’t really effective,” Rio stated.

So, in the summertime of 2021, Rio believes there was a change of technique. “That’s when you start seeing doxxing, abuse and targeting extending beyond influential figures, but really starting to target anyone and everyone,” stated Rio. “It is a campaign of terror [and] a very effective strategy to try to push self-censorship and really try to scare people into silence.”

While this can’t be instantly linked to the navy, the exercise is evident in public Telegram channels led by navy supporters. Digital rights activist Htaike Htaike Aung, believes using sexually specific content material to silence critics has labored. As a results of all of the doxxing that has occurred, she instructed CNN: “We see more and more women and gender minorities getting afraid to voice their opinions.”


Linn – CNN just isn’t utilizing her full identify out of concern for her security – is a social activist who has been vocal about human rights violations and ladies’s rights in Myanmar since 2017.

She was arrested on March 3, 2021, she instructed CNN, for organizing non-violent demonstrations following the coup and was held at Insein Prison in Yangon for eight months.

Soon after her launch, the 34-year-old, started to talk out in regards to the therapy of incarcerated individuals in Insein. (A 2021 Human Rights Watch report describes “dehumanizing” experiences of Myanmar prisons, together with “sexual violence and other forms of gendered harassment and humiliation from police and military officials” because the coup.)

“I spoke out about violence and human rights abuses in prison on social media and to news media agencies” Linn stated. “I also talked and campaigned to strengthen public participation in the revolution.”

The navy officers who’re chargeable for Insein jail didn’t reply to CNN’s request for remark.

Per week after her launch, Linn was focused on a preferred pro-military Telegram channel which on the time had over 18,000 followers. Sharing screenshots of her Facebook posts detailing what she stated was occurring inside Insein, in addition to photos of her with deposed chief Suu Kyi, her doxxer wrote: “She was released not longer than 2 weeks ago, and she is again doing the same thing. She might want to go back inside.” Others within the group quickly responded with extra gendered abuse.

CNN was capable of see the abusive posts and the dialog that {followed}. One consumer wrote: “Kill her!”. Another: “After everyone has f**ked her, deliver her verdict,” {followed} by a number of extra expressing comparable sentiments. More posts {followed}.

Linn had sought refuge at her group’s secure home (which CNN just isn’t naming out of concern for his or her security) following her jail launch however after being doxxed, it grew to become tougher and tougher for her to enterprise exterior. “Military supporters and religious extremists started keeping watch in the neighborhoods I was likely to be in,” she stated.

She instructed CNN that she was decided to not really feel ashamed however was apprehensive in regards to the security of others. “I knew if I were re-arrested, others living in the safe house would also be targeted.”

In March 2022, a yr after her ordeal started, Linn snuck out of the secure home and started her journey out of Myanmar. “I did not care if I was re-arrested, I didn’t want anyone else to get arrested because of me.”

The exercise on these Telegram channels may be reported to the platform’s moderators and a few channels have been taken down because of this. Telegram took down a channel CNN shared quickly after it was highlighted, in addition to channels highlighted in a current report by the BBC. But CNN noticed that when channels are blocked, new ones quickly pop up, and consultants highlighted that many dangerous ones are by no means eliminated.

In January 2022, a digital civil rights group working within the area (which CNN just isn’t naming to make sure the security of their groups) listed 14 public Telegram channels that have been violating the “human rights of people of Myanmar” in numerous methods, together with the posting of sexually specific imagery and movies of girls with out their consent, all launched by a pro-military social influencer who runs a number of channels on Telegram.

The group say they despatched the doc – seen by CNN – to Telegram, expressing concern that this was taking place on its platform, together with a couple of case research, calling on Telegram to stick to UN human rights rules, they instructed CNN. But one yr later, they are saying they’re but to get a response and say the abuse is constant to occur in giant volumes.

Myint of Access Now highlights that whereas Telegram has now taken down mpany channels run by these pro-military influencers, different channels are nonetheless working by the identical identify. “Why is Telegram not being more proactive so as to not let (people with) the same name open more and more channels?,”

Telegram’s assertion to CNN claimed doxxing, the posting of sexual content material and the perpetuation of violence is a violation of its Terms of Service. It additionally added: “Our moderators use a mixture of proactive moderation and consumer stories to take away such content material from our platform. This clear coverage has allowed pro-democracy actions around the globe to prepare large-scale actions safely utilizing our platform, for instance in Hong Kong, Belarus and Iran.

But Rio believes Telegram has not performed this position in Myanmar. “Telegram claims to be such a revolutionary platform helping Iranians, (and) Hong Kongers but when it comes to Myanmar, it fails to recognize how the platform is abused,” she stated.

Telegram didn’t reply to CNN’s particular questions on whether or not it moderates Burmese language content material or why abusive, doxxing and pornographic posts on public channels proceed regardless of the platform’s Terms of Service.

“We’ve seen zero efforts from Telegram to reach out to civil society in Myanmar and try to understand what actually is happening,” concluded Rio. They want to truly “engage and get a sense for what the risks associated with their platforms are and develop mechanisms to be in a better position to address risks that emerge.”

Telegram didn’t reply to CNN’s follow-up request for touch upon why it was allegedly not responding to emails and memos from digital rights activists working in Myanmar and displaying proof of huge scale doxxing.

Chomden, who felt her life crumble after being doxxed on considered one of Myanmar’s many pro-military Telegram channels, stresses the necessity for urgency, saying: “It’s not just me, hundreds of women in Myanmar are going through the same and it’s not okay. Telegram needs to know it’s not alright… to let these groups ruin people’s lives.”



(CNN just isn’t utilizing her full identify out of concern for her security)

Age: 28

Profession: Doctor

Her account has been edited for readability and brevity

Right after the coup on February 1, 2021, I teamed up with different physician mates to deal with civilians injured throughout the protests that had erupted. We have been decided to deal with individuals in want and inside two days, we have been working free medical clinics. We additionally gave stories on the numbers injured – and killed – to reporters within the metropolis.

In mid-March, a reporter pal warned me that the navy had issued an arrest warrant in my identify below Penal Code 505 (A), which had been recently amended and now coated extra individuals talking critically in regards to the coup and the navy. So, I took a bag and fled the nation.

After I left, somebody I knew posted a video of me together with false data claiming I used to be having an affair and a fair larger nightmare started.

Pro-military teams had one way or the other obtained the video, and photos from my Facebook profile ended up on a number of Telegram channels run by pro-military teams and the pictures uncovered my location.

Many individuals began sending impolite messages to me, and again house, my mom was humiliated by individuals in her neighborhood who commented that I’ve a foul character. On my weblog, individuals began commenting that I ought to be punished for going in opposition to Burmese tradition (which frowns upon {couples} residing collectively out of wedlock and on girls having affairs).

It all took an enormous toll on my life. I not use social media as a result of I’m so scared. I can’t go house, and I shouldn’t have any safety the place I’m as a result of there may be an arrest warrant out for me in Myanmar. I’m now an unlawful immigrant. I really feel so hopeless and there’s no resolution in sight.


Age: 34

Profession: Pro-democracy activist for Sisters2Sisters

Her account has been edited for readability and brevity

I’ve been a social justice activist for round 12 years. I come from a typical Burmese Buddhist navy and civilian officers’ household. I used to be raised in a navy compound as a daughter of a captain After highschool, I began exploring the surface world, and after I spoke up in opposition to navy atrocities and failed management in ethnic and minority areas, most of my kin and relations felt betrayed.

But I used to be impressed by the bravery and dedication of the pro-democracy motion in Myanmar and went on to unlearn what the navy indoctrinated and relearn rules of human rights. And that made me considered one of their victims.

In 2012, I co-organized the primary Myanmar Youth Forum in Myanmar and have become the nationwide coordinator for National Youth Congress whereas Myanmar was nonetheless below a quasi-military authorities. In 2014, earlier than the parliament passed a bill that opposes girls’s reproductive rights, pretend accounts reportedly created to focus on girls activists shared private data on-line, together with mine. My cellphone quantity was shared on a variety of pornographic websites, and I bear in mind getting calls at midnight, asking what my worth was. That was an try to disgrace the household and cease me from talking out.

I saved organizing boards, neighborhood occasions, and protests for various points and continued to be closely attacked on-line and excluded from society.

After the coup in 2021, seven years after this primary abuse, navy propagandists doxxed me on a number of Telegram channels. My actual identify was shared with state media who used my social media profile image and introduced there was a warrant in opposition to me for talking out in opposition to the navy, asking individuals to allow them to know in the event that they discover me. Later, my household’s deal with was posted on pro-military Telegram channels by navy propagandists, asking police to test if I used to be there and if not, to intimidate my relations. My sister’s social media profiles have been additionally used to dox her. I managed to safe myself, my household and my sister however the hurt on different girls has continued.

I made a decision I wanted to take some motion, so for International Women’s Day final yr, I began the #TelegramHurtsWomen marketing campaign on Twitter with my group, Sisters2Sisters. We tagged Pavel Durov, (the founding father of Telegram) on my posts, however are but to get a response.

As lately as final month, my identify was included in an inventory of greater than 200 of the most-followed celebrities, bloggers, and activists (women and men) posted on a Telegram channel and threatened by pro-military teams, calling for individuals to inspect us and inform them if we’re nonetheless talking out.


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Editors: Meera Senthilingam, Eliza Anyangwe and Hilary Whiteman

Illustrations: JC, for CNN

Design: Alicia Johnson

Data Editor: Carlotta Dotto


How CNN carried out its evaluation for this story

CNN commissioned an information scientist, whose identification is being withheld for security causes, to make use of AI software program to scan content material throughout the messaging platform Telegram.

The knowledge scientist recognized and analyzed public Telegram channels with acknowledged allegiance to the navy that have been energetic between February 1, 2021 and December 31, 2022. They recognized 198 such channels, and narrowed their evaluation to give attention to exercise within the 10 channels with the best variety of followers.

Separately, they developed an inventory of key phrases used mostly along side sexual content material in Myanmar to establish 10 accounts with the best quantity of sexual photos and movies posted throughout this timeframe. They calculated the variety of sexual messages, photos and movies posted in these channels. All messages have been checked manually to substantiate the findings. The knowledge scientist and CNN then analyzed the imagery posted in these 10 channels to calculate what number of of them focused girls. A pattern of 200 posts was checked and translated by CNN to establish if girls have been focused for his or her political opinions.

CNN additionally analyzed exercise on a public Telegram channel run by a well-known pro-military social influencer. Within hours of forming, the variety of followers on the channel reached hundreds and inside days it had greater than 30,000 followers. CNN monitored the exercise on this channel for 5 weeks in September 2022.

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