When a Guy You’re Seeing Turns Out To Be a Member of an Obscene Telegram Channel
Top image: Tey Liang Jin / RICE File Photo

When I was still in the throes of online dating—thank heavens that phase of my life is now over—I’d swiped right on someone who seemed promising: Dimpled smile. Animal lover. Had half a brain and was able to carry a conversation. 

It was right around the time SGWikiLeaks, an SG Nasi Lemak-esque Telegram group sharing obscene photos and videos of local women, mostly without their consent, was exposed. 

There were several Telegram channels and group chats created under the same name by the administrators, all with thousands of members. I’d joined one to see if I could write an article about it. I absently clicked on the member list, not expecting to see any familiar faces.

Yet there he was, his display picture grinning at me. 

A few more scrolls confirmed that the guy I’d been talking to for the last few weeks was an active member, regularly commenting on how “hot” the girls in the shared pictures were. 

My first reaction was visceral disgust. My next was to unfollow and block him on absolutely everything. 

Honestly, our conversation was already fizzling out, so I wasn’t heartbroken. But I hated that I’d invested time and energy into entertaining this seemingly decent guy. 

(Maybe I should have caught on to the red flags when he proudly claimed he was “emotionally intelligent” as a preface to our conversation).

Perhaps the most disturbing part was that each chat was filled with thousands more like him. Men who go about their lives pretending to treat women decently, only to drop the act when they’re around other men. 

A Groupchat by Any Other Name

SG Nasi Lemak is probably the most well-known Telegram channel where content featuring often unsuspecting women and schoolgirls is shared. Since the channel (which had over 44,000 members) was exposed in 2019, local purveyors of non-consensual smut have only gotten better at covering their tracks. 

A recent Straits Times report reveals that new members-only groups are popping up on Telegram. 

A one-time fee of less than $100 offers admission into Telegram channels that share explicit videos of women. Some channels even share content featuring girls as young as secondary school students.

The entire set-up of these channels seems meticulously crafted to maintain the administrators’ and members’ anonymity.   

First off, unlike Telegram groups, users can’t view the subscriber list of a channel. 

These groups also routinely switch to backup channels, with an administrator transferring subscribers over to the new channel.

To avoid snitches, these groups have member quotas. They’re small and exclusive. One channel featuring young girls, for example, has a membership of about 50, says The Straits Times

The Real Problem

The numerous Telegram channels are just reflection of an underlying issue: Singaporean men who are fine with dehumanising women. 

The issue of consuming pornography featuring consenting performers is contentious and requires nuance. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. 

The content in these Telegram channels is undeniably abhorrent. Many of the explicit clips and images in these groups are leaked and released without the victims’ consent. 

Some are doctored images of women sourced from their personal social media accounts. Some are voyeuristic hidden camera clips. And some groups, like SharingIsCaring, feature surreptitious photos of women and schoolgirls (in uniform!) on public transport.

And beyond the consent issue, there’s also the blatant fetishisation of the women’s races. Content is often categorised by race and ethnicity, with specific channels such as Rojak Studios and XMM Insititute. In my short stint scrolling through SG Wiki Leaks, I remember seeing regular reminders for members to only post Asian women (“No ang mohs!” the note sent every few hours read).

I’d hazard a guess that before Telegram, all this content was relegated to online forums and private chats. And if Telegram ever becomes untenable for these men, they’ll always find another way to get their fix. 

Just look at how more groups have mushroomed up after SG Nasi Lemak was taken down, and even after four of its members were arrested

That’s what troubles me the most. They know what they’re doing is wrong—hence the subterfuge—but they simply don’t give a shit. 

This behaviour doesn’t just stay on Telegram either. We have to worry about being secretly filmed in the gym, on public transport, in restrooms, and even in the homes we rent.

Singapore telegram channels explicit content
Image: Zachary Tang / RICE File Photo

The increase in voyeurism over the years even necessitated amendments to the Penal Code, which kicked in on January 1st, 2020. The amendments now clearly define voyeurism and the creation and distribution of voyeuristic content as criminal offences. Offenders will also face tougher penalties. 

Even so, the fear is constant. I, and many women I know, eyeball any hotel room and changing room we enter for any suspicious-looking glints that might resemble a camera lens. Women have urged each other to add watermarks to nudes so that if they get leaked, the source is identifiable.

And then there’s the uncertainty. Can we trust the men in our lives? Do they really respect us? Yes, not all men are trash. But the impact of these Telegram channels is tangible.

This is a plea from a woman who’s sick and tired of this. Please, men, if you see your fellow males acting like creeps and sharing this content, call them out. Men often let the mask down around other men, after all.

As they get better at hiding their tracks, women in Singapore might never know if the men we interact with daily are one of them. It might even be the one who publicly declared that these Telegram channels are disgusting.

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