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How young women are using social media to fight back against men behaving badly

SINGAPORE — Elicia Yeo remembers the day that a friend told her that one of her Instagram photos had been shared in a Telegram group chat that had over 40,000 members, mostly men.

Social media users told TODAY that it is common for them to come across Instagram stories or tweets in which victims of sexual harassment and assault are calling out their perpetrators.

Social media users told TODAY that it is common for them to come across Instagram stories or tweets in which victims of sexual harassment and assault are calling out their perpetrators.

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SINGAPORE — Elicia Yeo remembers the day that a friend told her that one of her Instagram photos had been shared in a Telegram group chat that had over 40,000 members, mostly men.

She asked to be added to the Telegram group, called SG Nasi Lemak, to see for herself what was going on in there. What she saw shocked her.

“There are guys sharing screenshots of girls’ Instagram photos, which other members will make lewd comments on,” said the 19-year-old final-year student from Singapore Polytechnic. “There are also men sharing naked photos and videos of girls, probably without their consent, and even guys offering to sell nudes or explicit videos of their exes, which I think is really sick.”

One of her first instincts was to turn to Twitter, where she saw that many other young women had been in her shoes and complained about SG Nasi Lemak too.

She began interacting with some of these women, and tagged the Singapore Police Force in a tweet which included screenshots of the Telegram group chat. Many of her fellow victims did the same.

She finally lodged a police report at the end of September, over a month after she first found out about the group. Earlier this month, the police said they had received reports against the SG Nasi Lemak chat group, and that investigations were ongoing.

Throughout the ordeal, social media was a big help, Ms Yeo said. Using Twitter, the young women and girls whose photos had been shared on SG Nasi Lemak could easily tag and notify the police about their frustrations, which she believes will help put pressure on the police to do something.

Indeed, many young women around the world, inspired by the #MeToo movement that went viral two years ago, are turning to social media as their first resort when they find themselves in similar, or worse, predicaments.

The most famous example in Singapore, of course, is 23-year-old National University of Singapore (NUS) undergraduate Monica Baey, whose Instagram stories about being the victim of a voyeur not only went viral but sparked a national discussion, prompted local universities to tighten their disciplinary frameworks and received an airing in Parliament.

But Ms Baey is far from a rarity. TODAY spoke to 10 young social media users, all in their early 20s, who said they come across one or two Instagram stories or tweets each month in which a young woman is exposing a man for bad behaviour, whether it is harassment, molest or circulating their photos without consent.

Aside from Ms Yeo, TODAY also spoke to two other young women who have turned to social media to put their harassers on blast.

USING SOCIAL MEDIA TO WARN OTHER WOMEN

One such young woman, who only wished to be known as CY, also found out that her Instagram pictures had been shared in a Telegram group chat, similar to SG Nasi Lemak, by a man whom she had initially trusted as a friend.

The 21-year-old said: “I got to know him in secondary school. He seemed really nice at first when he talked to me, which was in 2014 or 2015. We lost touch after graduating, until I was informed that he had taken screenshots of my Instagram and Telegram profile pictures and sent them into such Telegram porn group chats.”

CY then posted the man’s pictures, name and other identifying details on her Instagram account, and recounted what he had done, as a “warning” to other girls.

“I have yet to lodge a police report because those pictures (that he shared) were not nudes or anything of that sort, so I think authorities might not be able to do much,” she said.

In July this year, a 19-year-old Temasek Polytechnic student, who only wanted to be known as Ms Tan, posted on her Instagram account a picture of a man, without revealing his face or identity, being questioned by two police officers inside a handicapped toilet.

She and a friend had been using the toilet when the man tried to force the door open, she wrote in the caption.

“At that point in time, we just wanted people to know (what happened). I feel like the police will do what they can, but on Instagram there is more coverage,” she told TODAY.

“The post was also an outlet (to talk about what I experienced). I couldn’t stop thinking about the incident. I wanted to share my story and let people know that this kind of thing does happen.”

People certainly took notice — her picture garnered over 21,000 likes almost a month after it was posted on her Instagram.

She said that being able to post about the incident on Instagram also helped her to cope with the incident.

“The response was quite overwhelming and so many people felt so strongly about it — there were a lot of angry comments. It definitely helped me and reassured me that I wasn’t overreacting. I felt like my feelings were validated,” she said.

A POSITIVE TREND?

Social media users told TODAY that it is common for them to come across Instagram stories or tweets in which victims of sexual harassment and assault are calling out their perpetrators.

The 10 social media users, all in their early 20s, said that they see one or two such posts every month, and they think this trend is a positive one.

Final-year NUS student Melissa Chua, 23, said: “If the purpose is to bring about awareness regarding this issue to potential victims out there, then it is a positive and effective way to get the message across.”

Tattoo artist Rickie Sonjia Marcus, 22, added: “I think it's good that the victims have enough courage to come out and say that that happened to them as it is not easy. However if they really wanted to make a change, I think they should make a police report.”

Others, however, said they were concerned that some of these young women might end up in trouble themselves, for doxxing.

Under laws that were introduced in May, doxxing — the publication of an individual’s personal information with intention to harass — is a crime.

Those found guilty of intentionally causing harassment, alarm or distress can be fined up to S$5,000 or be jailed up to six months, or both. Those found guilty of creating fear or provocation of violence can be fined up to S$5,000 or be jailed up to 12 months, or both.

Nanyang Technological University undergraduate Theodore Tan, 23, said: “Women voicing out their experiences in a constructive manner is definitely a positive trend. But to dox someone’s identity online is a whole other issue that should be rectified as the motivations behind it should be questioned.”

WHAT LAWYERS SAY

Mr Chooi Jing Yen, a lawyer at Eugene Thuraisingam LLP, said that a key requirement for doxxing is an intention to cause harassment, distress or alarm.

He said: “The pure act of publishing identifying information, without more, would probably not fall foul of the law. Unless, of course, the intention behind doing so was to cause harassment, distress or alarm to the person whose details have been published.”

If it is a genuine case of a victim intending to call out a perpetrator and warn others to be careful, this probably would not be caught by the laws, he added.

“There can, however, be a fine line between a genuine intention to warn others and a nascent intention to harass or incite potential violence.”

However, Mr Joel Ng, a lawyer at Quahe Woo and Palmer LLC, warned that even if the original caption does not explicitly encourage others to threaten or harass, doxxing can still occur.

He said: “For example, if threats of violence are being made in the comment section, replying to those comments with a person’s personal information could be considered an offence because the poster would have reasonable cause to believe that this is likely to cause violence against that person.” 

He added that using social media may not be the best way to handle such cases of sexual harassment or assault.

Mr Ng said: “Any call-out of an alleged perpetrator inherently carries the risk of infringement of the law because it may be inferred that the intention was to harass.

“There will be no infringement of the law where it is clear that the complainant’s intention was not to harass, such as where the intention was clearly to warn others and where no personal information of the alleged perpetrator is posted.”

Mr Chooi added that those in the SG Nasi Lemak Telegram chat group are probably running afoul of Singapore’s doxxing laws, but a woman retaliating online might get into trouble as well.

He said: “We should be alive to the possibility of victims engaging in tit-for-tat behaviour, which the law generally does not encourage. The Singapore courts take a dim view of vigilante justice, and on one view the new laws may be seen as a message from Parliament that such behaviour is not encouraged.”

He said that victims of sexual harassment or assault may seek orders in court that the perpetrator take down the posts, undertake to refrain from repeating their actions and issue an apology on the same medium.

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sexual harassment social media victims

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