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How Myanmar women are being abused online by supporters of the military



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Editor’s Word: 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, take a look at our FAQs.


In the summertime of 2021, Chomden was overseas, 1000’s of miles away from her residence in Myanmar, when a buddy 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 telephone falling from her hand. She had simply been doxxed.

A video of a unadorned Chomden – whose title has been modified to guard her identification – having intercourse with a former boyfriend, alongside along with her title and Fb 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 army 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 residence, however she says she had additionally felt obligated to talk out on social media concerning the plight of Myanmar’s folks and the junta’s swift and brutal repression of vital voices, sharing video testimonies from folks nonetheless within the nation.

Far-off from residence, she had assumed she can be protected from any reprisals for her criticism of the ruling junta, however Chomden had not thought-about the potential for 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 army and used to flow into propaganda and dox folks believed to oppose the SAC. Chomden’s Fb image included a filter displaying the flag of Myanmar’s shadow authorities, the Nationwide Unity Authorities (NUG), figuring out her as a supporter of the nation’s deposed, democratically elected authorities.

The accompanying textual content on the Telegram put up, written in Burmese by the channel administrator, learn: “The whore who’s having intercourse with everybody and recording it in HD… Know your place, 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 put up took such a toll on her psychological well being that she stated: “I’ve to confess that I even considered killing myself.”

“They wished to destroy my life,” she advised 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 a protracted historical past of battle towards the army united below the Folks’s Defence Power (PDF), armed models aligned with the shadow authorities.

Preventing has since displaced tons of of 1000’s of individuals and lots of now concern a deepening civil war.

However battle in Myanmar is just not solely occurring on the bottom; assaults are prevalent on-line, and doxxing has emerged as a device used extensively by supporters of the junta to threaten and silence folks they see as their opponents.

Doxxing is the act of publicly figuring out or publishing “non-public details about somebody as a type of punishment or revenge” – and women and men are being focused in numerous methods.

When males are focused, posts usually insinuate that they’re linked to terrorist teams working to carry down the junta, a number of consultants from NGOs and digital rights teams within the area advised CNN. However when girls are doxxed, the assaults ceaselessly characteristic sexist hate speech, usually coupled with express 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 folks vulnerable to arrest, whereas exposing non-public movies and images topics them and their total households to societal disgrace.

Separate analyses by CNN and NGOs working in Myanmar reveals that is all occurring extensively on Telegram (which grew in significance after the army ordered Fb 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 way of their app.

A CNN evaluation recognized tons of of sexual movies and pictures utilized in pro-military Telegram channels abusing girls, usually for having pro-democracy views, and tons of extra utilizing sexual phrases to attain the identical purpose. A separate evaluation by Myanmar Witness – a mission run by the UK-based Centre for Info 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 noticed that (as much as) 90% of the abusive posts had been perpetrated by channels that seem like pro-military and pro-SAC and ultra-nationalist teams … focused in direction of pro-democracy girls,” Me Me Khant, who led the Myanmar Witness analysis, advised 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 information of Myanmar to research ten public pro-military Telegram channels lively between the onset of the coup and the top of 2022, recognized as containing among the many best quantity of sexual imagery and video footage. CNN is just not naming the corporate due to considerations about their security. Greater than 178,000 posts had been shared in that timeframe, with one channel having greater than 42,000 followers on the time of research.

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

In a public Telegram channel monitored individually by CNN, misogyny was customary and the discharge of ladies’s names and addresses commonplace. One put up noticed an administrator profusely insult a girl for supporting the pro-democracy motion, utilizing offensive sexual language, and questioning her fertility. The put up included the traces (initially in Burmese): “Due to her unhealthy angle, she couldn’t get pregnant.” Different posts launched addresses calling for ladies to be discovered and arrested, or their houses and companies closed down.

The latest Myanmar Witness report supplied additional proof of this abuse on-line, concentrating on each distinguished girls and ladies normally. The workforce 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 additional evaluation of the content material of the messages by the non-profit regarded on the sorts of abuse and hate speech in 220 posts throughout Telegram, Fb and Twitter (the bulk on Telegram) and located that no less than half of the posts had 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 express 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 army 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 “extremely seemingly” 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 seemingly reveals simply the tip of the iceberg, for the reason that analyses had been solely of public channels and never non-public teams or messages.

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

“We’ve seen two excessive profile circumstances the place two well-known girls had been arrested proper after being doxxed. The channels additionally rejoiced after their arrests. When such issues occur, you possibly can’t assist however marvel: what in the event that they weren’t doxxed, would they nonetheless have been arrested — on the time?,” Khant advised CNN.

Wai Phyo Myint, Asia Pacific coverage analyst at digital rights group Entry Now explains the wide selection of serious offline penalties. “Folks [are] being arrested, blackmailed or compelled into exile. Some have misplaced their livelihoods after their companies and houses have been sealed off following the doxxing, others have had to enter hiding,” she advised CNN.

The Myanmar army 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 Nationwide Unity Authorities acknowledged that gender inequality was an issue within the nation. “Harassment based mostly on gender or sexual orientation is quite common in Myanmar, on either side,” Myo Min advised CNN, including that “it clearly reveals the necessity (for) work, training and clarification wanted on gender equality.” However he additionally known as on social media platforms to take motion and create a greater reporting system. “They’ve their half (within the) duties,” he stated.

In a press release to CNN, Telegram spokesperson Remi Vaughn reiterated the Phrases of Service and wrote: “Telegram is a platform free of charge speech. Nonetheless, sharing non-public info (doxxing) and calling for violence are explicitly forbidden by our Phrases of Service.”

CNN was unable to determine 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, and so on” was prohibited. The platform additionally offers an electronic mail – [email protected] – to report this content material.

When CNN {followed} up with Telegram relating to guidelines of doxxing – or the dearth thereof – on their publicly obtainable Phrases of Service they didn’t reply.

The World Justice Heart, 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 spiritual, cultural, political, and conventional practices.

“Girls in Burma are typically understood to be secondary to males,” the report acknowledged, and within the eight years since its publication, little has modified, believes Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the World Justice Heart.

She believes the mainstream view of ladies in Myanmar continues to be one among 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 army itself would do.

“The Myanmar army has, for many years, used sexual and gender-based violence as a focused weapon,” Radhakrishnan advised CNN. “Girls and ladies’s our bodies are actually considered in a really slender mindset by the army, and that displays on the acts that they perpetrate towards girls, whether or not that’s bodily violence, whether or not that’s different sorts of violence, the newest being the usage of expertise.”

However girls have lengthy performed a job within the nation’s pro-democracy motion, as soon as led by ousted chief Aung San Suu Kyi, who gained 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 acquired 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 lady who’s shamed for her physique, a girl who’s shamed for sexual actions, that signifies that that lady doesn’t have worth throughout the society anymore,” Radhakrishnan stated.

After she was doxxed, Chomden advised 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 pals appalled by her “shameful” habits as phrase unfold throughout the group.

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

Chomden continues to assist the NUG, however feels scared to return residence after the coup, particularly for the reason that army had issued an arrest warrant towards her for her activism in April 2021, however the video made the concept much more terrifying: “How might I … with a lot disgrace?,” she advised CNN.

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

“If I ought to put a timeline to this,” Rio advised CNN, “you will notice that instantly after the coup, the army had been going after anyone that had the potential to rally folks: that’s influencers, film stars, key activists, form of native influential figures.”

Rio defined that this was performed by charging them below penal code 505 for talking out towards the army, which according to Human Rights Watch, was amended to punish a broader vary of critics of the coup and the army. However “that wasn’t actually efficient,” Rio stated.

So, in the summertime of 2021, Rio believes there was a change of technique. “That’s if you begin seeing doxxing, abuse and concentrating on extending past influential figures, however actually beginning to goal anybody and everybody,” stated Rio. “It’s a marketing campaign of terror [and] a really efficient technique to attempt to push self-censorship and actually attempt to scare folks into silence.”

Whereas this can’t be straight linked to the army, the exercise is obvious in public Telegram channels led by army supporters. Digital rights activist Htaike Htaike Aung, believes the usage of sexually express content material to silence critics has labored. Because of all of the doxxing that has occurred, she advised CNN: “We see an increasing number of girls and gender minorities getting afraid to voice their opinions.”


Linn – CNN is just not utilizing her full title 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 advised CNN, for organizing non-violent demonstrations following the coup and was held at Insein Jail in Yangon for eight months.

Quickly after her launch, the 34-year-old, started to talk out concerning the therapy of incarcerated folks in Insein. (A 2021 Human Rights Watch report describes “dehumanizing” experiences of Myanmar prisons, together with “sexual violence and different types of gendered harassment and humiliation from police and army officers” for the reason that coup.)

“I spoke out about violence and human rights abuses in jail on social media and to information media businesses” Linn stated. “I additionally talked and campaigned to strengthen public participation within the revolution.”

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

Every 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 Fb posts detailing what she stated was occurring inside Insein, in addition to footage of her with deposed chief Suu Kyi, her doxxer wrote: “She was launched not longer than 2 weeks in the past, and he or she is once more doing the identical factor. She may need to return inside.” Others within the group quickly responded with extra gendered abuse.

CNN was in a position to see the abusive posts and the dialog that {followed}. One person wrote: “Kill her!”. One other: “After everybody has f**ked her, ship her verdict,” {followed} by a number of extra expressing comparable sentiments. Extra posts {followed}.

Linn had sought refuge at her group’s protected home (which CNN is just not naming out of concern for his or her security) following her jail launch however after being doxxed, it grew to become more durable and more durable for her to enterprise outdoors. “Navy supporters and non secular extremists began preserving watch within the neighborhoods I used to be more likely to be in,” she stated.

She advised CNN that she was decided to not really feel ashamed however was frightened concerning the security of others. “I knew if I had been re-arrested, others dwelling within the protected home would even be focused.”

In March 2022, a yr after her ordeal started, Linn snuck out of the protected home and started her journey out of Myanmar. “I didn’t care if I used to be re-arrested, I didn’t need anybody else to get arrested due to me.”

The exercise on these Telegram channels may be reported to the platform’s moderators and a few channels have been taken down in consequence. Telegram took down a channel CNN shared quickly after it was highlighted, in addition to channels highlighted in a latest report by the BBC. However 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 is just not naming to make sure the security of their groups) listed 14 public Telegram channels that had been violating the “human rights of individuals of Myanmar” in numerous methods, together with the posting of sexually express imagery and movies of ladies 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 occurring on its platform, together with a number of case research, calling on Telegram to stick to UN human rights rules, they advised CNN. However one yr later, they are saying they’re but to get a response and say the abuse is constant to occur in massive volumes.

Myint of Entry Now highlights that whereas Telegram has now taken down many channels run by these pro-military influencers, different channels are nonetheless operating by the identical title. “Why is Telegram not being extra proactive in order to not let (folks with) the identical title open an increasing number of channels?,”

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

However Rio believes Telegram has not performed this position in Myanmar. “Telegram claims to be such a revolutionary platform serving to Iranians, (and) Hong Kongers however with regards to Myanmar, it fails to acknowledge 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 Phrases of Service.

“We’ve seen zero efforts from Telegram to achieve out to civil society in Myanmar and attempt to perceive what really is going on,” concluded Rio. They should really “have interaction and get a way for what the dangers related to their platforms are and develop mechanisms to be in a greater place to handle dangers 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 enormous scale doxxing.

Chomden, who felt her life collapse after being doxxed on one among Myanmar’s many pro-military Telegram channels, stresses the necessity for urgency, saying: “It’s not simply me, tons of of ladies in Myanmar are going by way of the identical and it’s not okay. Telegram must understand it’s not alright… to let these teams smash folks’s lives.”



(CNN is just not utilizing her full title out of concern for her security)

Age: 28

Occupation: Physician

Her account has been edited for readability and brevity

Proper after the coup on February 1, 2021, I teamed up with different physician pals to deal with civilians injured in the course of the protests that had erupted. We had been decided to deal with folks in want and inside two days, we had been operating free medical clinics. We additionally gave reviews on the numbers injured – and killed – to reporters within the metropolis.

In mid-March, a reporter buddy warned me that the army had issued an arrest warrant in my title below Penal Code 505 (A), which had been recently amended and now lined extra folks talking critically concerning the coup and the army. So, I took a bag and fled the nation.

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

Professional-military teams had in some way obtained the video, and footage from my Fb 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 residence, my mom was humiliated by folks in her group who commented that I’ve a foul character. On my weblog, folks began commenting that I must be punished for going towards Burmese tradition (which frowns upon {couples} dwelling collectively out of wedlock and on girls having affairs).

All of it took a large toll on my life. I now not use social media as a result of I’m so scared. I can’t go residence, and I should not have any safety the place I’m as a result of there’s an arrest warrant out for me in Myanmar. I’m now an unlawful immigrant. I really feel so hopeless and there’s no answer in sight.


Age: 34

Occupation: Professional-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 army and civilian officers’ household. I used to be raised in a army compound as a daughter of a captain After highschool, I began exploring the skin world, and after I spoke up towards army atrocities and failed management in ethnic and minority areas, most of my kinfolk and members of the family felt betrayed.

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

In 2012, I co-organized the primary Myanmar Youth Discussion board in Myanmar and have become the nationwide coordinator for Nationwide 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 info on-line, together with mine. My telephone quantity was shared on a spread of pornographic websites, and I keep in mind getting calls at midnight, asking what my value was. That was an try to disgrace the household and cease me from talking out.

I stored organizing boards, group 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, army propagandists doxxed me on a number of Telegram channels. My actual title was shared with state media who used my social media profile image and introduced there was a warrant towards me for talking out towards the army, asking folks to allow them to know in the event that they discover me. Later, my household’s tackle was posted on pro-military Telegram channels by army propagandists, asking police to examine if I used to be there and if not, to intimidate my members of the family. My sister’s social media profiles had 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 Worldwide Girls’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 just lately as final month, my title 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 folks 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

Information Editor: Carlotta Dotto


How CNN performed 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 info scientist recognized and analyzed public Telegram channels with acknowledged allegiance to the army that had been lively between February 1, 2021 and December 31, 2022. They recognized 198 such channels, and narrowed their evaluation to deal with exercise within the 10 channels with the best variety of followers.

Individually, they developed an inventory of key phrases used mostly together with sexual content material in Myanmar to determine 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 had been checked manually to substantiate the findings. The info 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 determine if girls had 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. Inside hours of forming, the variety of followers on the channel reached 1000’s and inside days it had greater than 30,000 followers. CNN monitored the exercise on this channel for 5 weeks in September 2022.