Myanmar Internet celebrity Korean Nyein Oo rose to fame in 2020, posting memes and gossip about Myanmar celebrities on Facebook, and by early 2021, Myanmar’s audience grew to hundreds of thousands. Then, after the country’s army seized power in February, he leaned abruptly to the right, becoming a bloody supporter of the junta, killing more than 1,500 people and arresting thousands in a bloody crackdown.
He was quickly banned from Facebook for violating its terms of service, so he turned to the encrypted messaging app and social sharing platform Telegram. There, he posted messages of support for the military, images of murdered civilians and doctored pornographic images purporting to be female opposition figures. Often, this content is cross-posted across other channels run by a network of pro-junta influencers, reaching tens of thousands of users.
This year, Han Nianwu turned to direct threats. Opponents of the junta plan to mark the anniversary of the coup with a “silent strike” on February 1, closing businesses and staying home, leaving streets deserted. Han Nyein Oo lashed out on his Telegram channel, asking his followers to send him pictures of stores and businesses planned to close. They said yes, and he started posting the pictures and addresses to his 100,000 followers. Police raided dozens of homes. Han Nyein Oo claimed credit. He did not respond to a request for comment.
“This was the beginning of the doxing movement,” said Myanmar digital rights activist Wai Phyo Myint. “Things have escalated since then.”
Over the past eight months, Han Nyein Oo’s Telegram channel, along with other channels of pro-coup activists, including self-identified journalist Thazin Oo and influential Sergeants Kyaw Swar and Phoe Si, have harassed hundreds of people they accuse of People supported the Resistance movement, from high-profile celebrities to small business owners and students. Since then, dozens of people have been arrested or killed in vigilante violence.
Han Nyein Oo’s channel was taken down in March after it was reported that it violated Telegram’s rules on distributing pornography, but within days he started another channel. It now has over 70,000 followers.
Telegram’s doxing problem extends far beyond Myanmar. Wired magazine interviewed activists and experts in the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe who said the platform ignored their warnings about the prevalence of politically motivated attacks on human flesh and allowed dangerous content to proliferate, leading to intimidation, violence and death.
In a Telegram message, company spokesperson Remi Vaughn said: “Since launch, Telegram has actively moderated harmful content on its platform, including the posting of private information. Our moderators actively monitor the public part of the app and accept user reports for Remove content that violates our terms.”
Telegram now claims to have more than 700 million active users worldwide, and its publicly stated philosophy is that private communications should be outside the control of governments. This has made it popular among people living under dictatorships around the world (as well as among conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers, and “sovereign citizens” of democracies).