This is a developing story that Coconuts is still investigating. All names have been changed to protect their identities.
Anita was no stranger to bad news, unexpected or otherwise. As a working mother of four, these things always found a way to happen at the most inconvenient times. From a school bullying incident when she was in a meeting with a client to a home accident and injury when she was dealing with a logistics crisis at work, she took on every crisis calmly and efficiently.
However, this time it was different.
As she was about to start work one day recently, she got a notification on her phone. It was from Instagram about a new comment on one of her posts. Thinking it was a reply to her latest photo of her weekend getaway, she was surprised to see that it was a comment on a video of her with her family from over two years ago.
“Aunty I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but Sara’s noods have been leaked,” it read.
She didn’t understand the sentence at first but only when she read it out loud did she realize what ‘noods’ was.
Her heart sank as she read the message again.
Telling herself that she still had a day’s work to get through, she took a screenshot of the message, deleted the comment, then sent her 17-year-old daughter the screenshot.
“What is this about – we are going to talk about it at home later,” she hurriedly typed before sending the message. After a few deep breaths and some mental affirmations, she went through the rest of her day as usual.
When Sara received the message from her mother, she froze.
Three months earlier, Sara started receiving messages from people she knew from school – who weren’t close to her – telling her “in good will” that they had seen her nude photos being circulated, and sold, on several groups on the messaging app Telegram.
All the people who had messaged her were guys.
She had no idea what they meant by “Telegram groups” but soon realized that the private photos she had sent to her long-time boyfriend had somehow been leaked. She told her boyfriend the news and they agreed to not discuss it and try to fix the problem themselves.
But somehow, now, her mother had found out. And she was filled with a sense of dread.
A normal, modern family
On a typical night in the Anita’s household, the family gathers around the table for a home-cooked dinner and talk about their day or random things that made the news. When she’s not busy running her successful lifestyle business, Anita is an excellent cook.
After praise is given to the chef and the dishes are washed, the family would bicker for a while trying to decide on what movie to watch. But plans for movie nights like that always end the same way – with all the kids staring and scrolling on their phones.
How can you fault them?
The quest to seek information is no longer a multipronged or multi-medium approach – everything you can learn is done through screens. Ask just about anyone these days and they would rather lose their wallets than their phones.
But family night was a bit different the day Anita received that Instagram message because Sara knew she would have to tell her mother everything after dinner.
In protection mode
Coming clean about sending nudes to her boyfriend was hard for both Sara and her mother. For Sara it was a dark confession about the full extent of her relationship with her boyfriend– and for her mom, it was the realization that her child was not a child anymore.
Still, Anita said that, at that moment, she had to put aside her personal grievances and first focus on protecting her daughter. Though Sara had reassured her mom that her boyfriend did not leak the photos, Anita set out to have a chat with him, just the two of them.
Cody and Sara started dating when they were still in secondary school. They attended different schools but were introduced to each other by friends. Like all teenage romances, it was rocky, uncertain and intense at time, with plenty of fights, make-ups, break-ups, parental interventions – the whole works.
Over the years, something clicked and Cody eventually became a welcomed guest in their household. They had started to trust him.
After the chat, Anita chose to believe that Cody did not leak the photos. When Cody and Sara had decided to handle matters on their own, they had tracked down the Telegram groups where the photos were circulating.
These ‘groups’ are nothing like the group chats you set up with your best mates. Most of the groups allow up to 200,000 members and are mainly used to broadcast content – in this case, lewd photos and videos of Singaporean women.
One group was called ‘Local SG Leaks’ with over 22,000 members.
The group also had links to six affiliated groups and 10 other channels like “SGCutie,” “SGDarkRoom,” “SGInterracial,” “SGFeet” and “SGMegas.”
Cody showed Anita some of the groups where the photos had appeared. There was no really requirement to access them, you just had to click ‘Join’ and you would start receiving a firehose of filth.
The group was a cesspool of disgustingly inappropriate comments and attracted members whose own personal libraries were filled with obscene photos and videos.
One Telegram user, Kaysiao, teased members of the groups by saying he had “mega links” that contained 13GB worth of files divided into 60 folders, each bearing the girls’ usernames.
“Any girls below 20 [years old] want me to rate their tits?” Telegram user Vk wrote.
Some tried to shoot their shot by asking for girls to chat or “have fun” with. Others requested and posted voyeuristic activities.
“What I mean is recording them in bathroom without them knowing. Do dm me,” a Drogba Zapdoa wrote.
“New snipes, tight girl,” one member wrote with two upskirt photos of a girl on the train.
With the exception of OnlyFans content creators who are cashing in on the appetites of these men, almost everything posted in group seemed to have been obtained without consent or knowledge.
It was an overwhelming web of lewd information that Anita and Cody pored over that afternoon, but now, they were on the same page.
But first, SG Nasi Lemak
Porn on Telegram is hardly surprising. In 2018, a Telegram group called SG Nasi Lemak blew up after several police reports were made. The Singapore-based group was a platform primarily used to upload and share photos of women – without their consent.
While it was also used for other shady transactions, like procuring vapes or sex for money, the pornographic exchange was its main draw.
From creepy shots of unsuspecting women on trains to full sex videos, it was somehow a place where everyone was comfortable enough to share these intimate and private things between strangers.
At its peak, the group had over 44,000 members and 29 admins. Four of the admins have since been sentenced to jail and the group was shut down in 2019 after it was reported to the authorities.
But SG Nasi Lemak is not the first group – and definitely won’t be the last – of these problematic groups. Trading pictures of women for a quick buck to some horny person can be done on plenty of other platforms – and a seemingly endless number of Telegram groups.
How do private photos get leaked?
According to one cybersecurity professional we talked to, understanding how leaks happen starts with understanding how information is generated and used.
“With the advent of social media, we put a lot of information about ourselves out there without even realizing,” Andrew Ng, who works for a crypto company, told Coconuts.
“There’s a bunch of reasons why your private photos managed to get out there – from poor passwords, phishing messages and scams, cloud-hacking, apps that over-request permissions.”
He said that, more often than not, it’s human error that leads to leaks – any hacker with enough time on their hands can study someone’s feed long enough to get the information they need.
The Dubai-based company that operates Telegram claims that it doesn’t collect data about its users, not even their names or birthdays, and the only thing anybody needs is a phone number to sign up.
On its website, it states: “Telegram is committed to protecting user privacy and human rights such as freedom of speech and assembly.”
The app is currently one of the top five most downloaded in the world and is favored by people because it provides anonymity and allows users to securely exchange messages, videos, chats, and various documents, including multimedia files. But it is for that same reason that cybercrime thrives on the platform.
Coconuts also reached out to Telegram but has yet to get a reply.
While they had enough information to report the group due to its vile nature, Anita and Cody wanted more incriminating information on the seller who had obtained Sara’s photos.
Cody joined the group and posed as an interested buyer. He reached out to “Remy Martin” who regularly put out a “Pm me for Malay leaks” message to the group.
From sleuthing, “Remy” was also the one who had previously posted his girlfriend’s nude photos in the group saying that there was more.
“Remy” said that he could either sell the “leaks” for “cheap” or, even worse – trade. Cody said that he didn’t have any photos to trade with and “Remy” proceeded to ask for S$30 for 110 items.
When Cody said he didn’t do bank transfers, Remy casually sent Cody his PayNow number to complete the transaction. When he keyed in the number on PayNow, it showed that the account belonged to an “Andy”.
Cody keyed in the number on Telegram and it led to an existing contact called Andy, along with profile photos which showed his real face.
Cody made the payment and in no time received a massive folder of nudes and videos of Malay girls, including the photos of Sara. Horrified, he quickly took screenshots and immediately quit the group without getting back to Remy/Andy.
He then wondered how many other sellers there were in the group just lurking and waiting for someone to buy their prized collection.
The next day, they tried calling the number provided for the PayNow transaction. Surprisingly, Remy/Andy picked up the phone after the first few rings.
It was not the voice they expected – it sounded light, like someone who didn’t have any guilt or shame.
They didn’t say anything and put down the phone immediately.
The whole situation has no doubt been a traumatic experience for Anita, Sara and Cody, but with some unexpected teamwork and mutual understanding, they were able to turn their pain and anger into purpose.
They have not filed a police report, although they have all the information needed now – names, numbers, screenshots and links.
But Anita seems hesitant to take that next step. She feels that she now has a stronger relationship with her daughter and that going to the police would mean reliving the horror all over again.
Under Singapore Penal Code section 377BE, a person may be prosecuted if he or she deliberately distributes or threatens to distribute intimate images or recordings of another person without his or her consent, knowing or having reason to believe that doing so will cause the other person humiliation, alarm, or distress.
When reporting crimes of this nature, there is always the fear of victim-blaming or a lack of empathy by authorities – and Anita and Sara are aware of this.
It was only in April 2023 that the police implemented new initiatives to make it safer for victims to report sex crimes but, with the law enforcement system just catching up, imagine all of the other cases like Sara’s that have gone unreported.
Anita said she won’t rule out making a police report, as a responsible parent trying to warn others of the dangers that lurk on messaging platforms. But for now, starting a revolution is not in her plans.
She said, “I just want to protect her and learn to understand her again.”
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