OCTOBER 3 — The All Women’s Action Society (AWAM) strongly urges the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) and Police Diraja Malaysia (PDRM) to take urgent, concrete and resolute action against the many groups on different platforms like the Telegram group called V2K in Malaysia that have been sharing women’s and girls’ photos and personal information without consent. These photos range from selfies and vacation pictures to nudes and other intimate shots. Members of this group also encourage each other to degrade the women. More significantly, we have come to find out these groups are also being used as a transaction hub for paid nudes, child pornography, hidden camera footage (CCTV), and even lifetime subscriptions to pornographic material.
Personal information shared without consent includes details such as phone numbers, social media handles, and even home addresses. In some instances, these girls’ personal information is used as a commodity to barter for other girls’ personal information. The men then use this information to send lewd messages to the women.
All members of the V2K group are men. The group has close to 40,000 male members, made up of university students, rich businessmen and many others. The V2K group alone has broken laws on criminal intimidation, sexual harassment, data privacy, the sharing of lewd content and potentially, laws on sexual abuse of children. Again we stress, demolishing this group and putting the perpetrators being bars should be an urgent priority issue for both PDRM and MCMC.
AWAM understands that MCMC is already in touch with Telegram to investigate the matter. While we applaud MCMC for moving quickly, we must stress this is not a touch and go case. MCMC must ensure that Telegram takes urgent steps to ensure that such groups are not allowed to exist on their platform. Telegram has long been known as a platform having questionable policies that make it easier for anonymity and easy distribution of pornographic material and MCMC is aware of this. Therefore, MCMC must commit time and resources to ensure that sustainable results are obtained. MCMC must make it so that such groups as the V2K find it extremely difficult to operate on that platform.
There are many other similar groups on Telegram, perpetuating lessons of toxic masculinity and condoning acts of gender-based violence. On Twitter, a screenshot was shared, from one group member who outright said that the women should be grateful because “at least, we are not raping them.”
Based off past cases, AWAM understands that boys as young as 15 are members of these groups. This is how toxic masculinity is perpetuated. Young boys are influenced by older men in such groups to sexualise and disrespect women. What is learnt in the digital world is then replicated in the real world.
Just this year alone, the country has already seen issues of toxic masculinity amongst young men resulting in fatal consequences for women. A 17 year old girl committed suicide on August 3, as a result of online sexual harassment by a 20 year old man, who threatened to make her pictures viral if she did not have sex with him. A 20 year old woman hung herself in her room on May 19 when she was cyber bullied by a male perpetrator online, who still has not been caught by the police or MCMC.
Last August, AWAM lobbied 22 Members of Parliament, who joined us in advocating for the tabling of the Sexual Harassment Bill in November 2020. Prior to the MCO, in February, both the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development worked with women’s NGOs to discuss Malaysia’s participation at the Beijing+25 meeting in New York (now postponed), an influential international platform supporting women’s rights.
With such awareness of women’s rights amongst our Executive, it is mind boggling that groups such as V2K have been allowed to exist, let alone operate with such impunity.
It is obvious that the group understands that their acts on Telegram are illegal, as they have taken digital security measures to ensure that the group is not infiltrated and/or destroyed by authorities. They identify and investigate new numbers and have a back-up group should their current group gets shut down. The members also teach each other how to stay anonymous and to avoid being caught by using burner numbers, VPN, and so on.
The girls whose pictures have been circulating in the V2K Telegram group have been trying to fight this issue by themselves and have since reached out to women’s organizations to ensure that the people in the V2K Telegram group and other similar groups are held accountable for their actions. AWAM has been receiving reports on the V2K Telegram group non-stop since this issue gained traction on the morning of 1st October 2020. AWAM is still consistently receiving reports and we have so far received over 20 cases of women coming forward reporting on their pictures being circulated in the V2K Telegram group.
These are 20 cases too many. Systematic and strategic measures need to be taken by authorities to properly curb issues of cyberbullying, online sexual harassment and online gender-based violence. We must maintain safe spaces for women in cyberspace, or face the negative consequences, some of which are long term and irreversible.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.