It has been previously exposed that Facebook-owned WhatsApp is teeming with groups that are dedicated to disseminating child sexual abuse material (CSAM), referred to as “child porn” or “CP” by many users. It appears now that Telegram, another instant messaging app, may have a similar problem.
Nitish Chandan, a cyber-security specialist who is the founder of Cyber Blog India and project manager at Cyber Peace Foundation, who has investigated WhatsApp groups with CSAM, did a smaller scale investigation into Telegram. Like WhatsApp, there are third party apps for Telegram too that have links which allow you to join a channel or a group on the app. Nitish searched 15 such applications and several websites to identify the links of these groups.
However, unlike WhatsApp, where CSAM groups can be found just by searching for “child” in the third-party apps, it is not so for Telegram. There were several links to adult pornography groups though, and there were several groups that advertised south Indian content only.
“To analyse the content further, these groups and channels were then observed. Out of the blue, on one such group, a user named X (redacted) posted another group’s link and wrote a message saying “Join CP (Child Pornography)”. Within seconds, people joined this group whose name read “Child CP Only”. On further investigation, it was found that the user, X active on the group used to work at a famous multinational company,” Nitish wrote in a report about the investigation.
X then wrote on the new group, “When the group hits 1000 members, I will add 2 videos per day. Whoever has 100+ CP will be promoted to be an admin. You can message X for premium access to a channel called X’s kids.” On this group, there were people from various countries, including Indian, whose numbers began with +91.
“These users actively appreciate content, ask for more and upload some as well. The content encountered on this group was way more traumatising and disturbing as compared to the last two investigations. There are hundreds of videos already uploaded on the group which are visible to anyone joining at any point of time (unlike a WhatsApp group). The videos depict children in sexually explicit activities of forced abuse (Indian children as well),” the report reveals.
It was also found that X operates CSAM exchange service and link sharing for 10 USD.
“The good thing about Telegram is that it allows one to report content and groups under different subheads and ‘child abuse’ is one of them,” Nitish tells TNM. So, when he reported the new group formed for sharing CSAM, it was removed. However, this is not always the case. The original group for instance, where X posted the message to join the CSAM group, was still active despite reporting. And Nitish says that the group ‘X’s kids’ is still active.
CSAM, sexual assault videos in adult porn groups
While CSAM is not being as openly sought and received on Telegram, it seems to be present nevertheless – in groups and channels sharing adult pornography videos. In fact, in the group where X had posted the message to join the CSAM group, 4000 images and videos had already been shared. Some of them had CSAM.
Some of these CSAM videos were particularly disturbing, Nitish says, and were videos of very young children, even babies being sexually abused, Nitish shares.
“This group was posted on one of the invite link sharing apps as an “adult group”. Posted by someone over a few months ago, I navigated to the original post and reported to Telegram. This group was also reported to Telegram. Days have passed since then and the content along with the group still exists,” Nitish’s report says.
While these findings are distressing, Nitish says that there needs to be further investigation into Telegram to find if CSAM is widely prevalent on the platform. Presently, he has investigated two Telegram groups.
Legality of adult pornography groups on Telegram
Under section 67A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, publishing and transmitting sexually explicit material in electronic form is illegal. “This means that while someone who watches or downloads porn is excluded from this law, one who posts or shares these videos is an offender,” Nitish explains. So, while there is some ambiguity here, he is of the opinion that these groups would be deemed illegal in the court of law.
While some of the porn videos posted seemed to be from pornography websites and had logos and watermarks, there were many that seemed more locally made and/or sourced, and had Indian people.
Among the Indian adult pornography videos, Nitish observed that there were some videos where at least one of the participants seemed to be unwilling. “In some, the participants seemed to be coerced into being filmed. Others appeared as though they were taken without the knowledge or consent of those engaging in sexual activity. There were several that seemed like rape videos, though it cannot be said how many were staged. Though I think that many were not, and were actually videos of sexual assault,” he says.
Underlying all these issues is the status of Indian adult industry itself. “In the US, they have recognised the adult film industry as a legitimate one, which allows room for regulation. Here, that is not the case. While consuming porn is not a crime, disseminating it is. There is an industry, but it’s not acknowledged, and its legality is in a grey area. This is a larger issue that needs debate, so that groups which share and disseminate pornography can also be regulated and properly investigated,” Nitish states
When TNM reached out to Telegram on how what they are doing to tackle the issue of CSAM, they said, "To keep Telegram free of abuse, including child abuse and terrorist propaganda, we process reports from users and employ both auto-flagging systems and human moderators for proactive moderation of public spaces on the platform."
The company reiterated that one can report public content on the platfrom on firstname.lastname@example.org or within the app. "Reports about child abuse are usually processed within one hour," Telegram added.