Telegram revenge porn scandal: police investigate as more than 50 000 men share explicit content of women and underaged girls

CN: this article contains discussion of rape, child pornography and revenge porn

REPORT

The Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs is currently investigating a case of mass revenge porn that has shaken Serbia and the surrounding Balkan region over the past few days. There is now increasing evidence to suggest that thousands of men have collaborated over a dozen group chats on the instant messaging platform, Telegram, to share explicit photos and videos of women and underage girls without their consent. 

Thus far the police have arrested two men, including Telegram user Nemanja Stojiljković, a 25-year-old man from Niš suspected of creating and administering a Telegram group chat called ‘Nišlijke’. The group chat hosted around 24 000 members (men) and was created to share explicit photos and videos of women and girls. The telephone numbers and addresses of several women and girls were also shared between the group chat members. It remains unclear as to how this information was accessed by the men involved.

Stojiljković told reporters from the national tabloid, Kurir, that he created the group chat two months ago ‘for fun’ and, despite his arrest, insists he does not consider himself to be a guilty party as he claims he did not personally post any content.

The second man to be arrested has been identified as ‘M.C.’ (27 years old) and is suspected of publishing explicit content as well as the address of a former love interest on the Telegram group chat this month. It is reported that he sought to recontact his ex-lover. When she refused, he threatened to publish intimate photos that she had previously sent to him as a minor.

Without social media users such as Staša Ivković (21 years old) from Vršac, posting about this criminal behaviour on Twitter, the pornographic content may have circulated for much longer than it did. Among the explicit content shared by the men were recordings of rape and child pornography. The origins of this footage have yet to be confirmed by authorities.

I found out about the group almost a year ago when a guy who I didn’t know personally contacted me to warn me that my Instagram profile appeared there [in the group chat] and that they’d been asking if there was a picture of me or a video of me or something like that.

Staša Ivković

This is not the only known group chat designed to spread revenge porn, uncovered through Serbian social media. Another group, ‘Ex YU balkanska soba’ (‘Ex YU Balkan room’) is believed to have hosted almost 36 000 male users. Soon after the group was exposed online, its name was changed and all its content deleted. The group chat and its members remain under investigation. 

It was the efficacy of social media that, once again, enabled this criminal activity to be exposed. Instagram page, Kritički(“Critical”), was among the first to warn users of these online criminal groups, and the page owner shared the email she herself had written to the various ministries of Interior in the Balkan region.



Male allyship towards the victims of this case of revenge porn has been noted with cautious optimism. Namely, Miloš (who has requested that his surname be kept anonymous) filed a private lawsuit to the Special Prosecutor’s Office for High-Tech Crime against one of the group’s administrators and its members. Miloš told Radio Slobodna Evropa:

“To be honest, I was shocked and appalled by the fact that there are around fifty thousand people in our society who are members of various groups where someone’s privacy is abused in such a reckless way, intimate photos are shared, and personal data and residential addresses are revealed.”

This is not the first time Telegram has found itself in the middle of a scandal: just a month ago the app was embroiled in a similar case of revenge porn that had gone unmonitored by the instant messaging platform in North Macedonia. North Macedonian authorities threatened to block the app. Meanwhile, the response of the Serbian authorities has not been as strong as many say it should have been, and Telegram does not appear to have explained how it will prevent cases similar to this from happening again. 

The latest Telegram scandal has shown just how thin the line can become between citizens seeking privacy on messaging services and taking advantage of this very feature by engaging in violent criminal behaviour. It has also highlighted the acute danger women and girls face from male violence, which continues to proliferate on online platforms unwilling to intervene in the name of humanity.

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