While cybercrime has become commonplace with the dominance of the digital world, the South Korean chatroom case will leave you disgusted and angry. “Cyber Hell: Exposing an Internet Horror” puts forth one of the most concerning questions with regards to selling pictures of minors online: who is paying to watch the pictures? There can only be a market for selling pictures of minor girls if there is a demand for it. Therefore, even though such rackets are led by criminal minds, they are enjoyed by thousands hiding behind their digital identity.
‘Cyber Hell: Exposing An Internet Horror’ Summary – What Is The Documentary About?
The documentary centers around a chatroom case that exposed the functioning of a market where pictures of minors were uploaded. The usual trick was to send a message to the victims disclosing how their pictures were circulating online. A link was attached, using which they could verify the message. A click on the link revealed their IP addresses and, therefore, their location to the perpetrator. After witnessing the pictures taken in confidence exposed online, the victims were left puzzled, and to escape the situation, they agreed to do whatever was asked of them. The perpetrator threatened to send the pictures to the victim’s family if she did not abide by him. Fearing shame and embarrassment, the victims agreed to take more pictures of themselves, and thus the perpetrator started controlling the lives of the victims.
At times, minor girls were contacted with the promise of modeling contracts as well. After acquiring sensual pictures, they were threatened to be released online if they did not perform according to his wishes. The groups had thousands of members. While some groups were free, others required an entry fee. The group members celebrated the adult exploitative content; they even had access to the victim’s information. The victims were labeled as “slaves” who had to perform according to the perpetrator’s instructions, and a failure to do that led to the revelation of their name, location, and other personal information in the group.
The existence of such a group came into prominence when Kin Wan, a journalist at Hankyoreh, was contacted by an informant in November 2019. He initially did not believe that the content had the potential to be newsworthy, but after studying the details, he learned that the perpetrator was from a reputed foreign school, and he felt that information might be able to act as a distinguisher. He ran the story the next day, and what followed left a scary impression on Kim Wan. His personal information was being circulated on the Telegram group. Pictures of his sons and his wife were uploaded. What was unnerving was that they were on the hunt for further information about his family members. The perpetrator promised to upload a picture of one of his “slaves” performing whatever the winner of the hunt would demand. After receiving the threat from the anonymous group, Yeon-Seo, another journalist working at Hankyoreh, joined the task force team that was led by Wan. What stunned Yeon-Seo about the case was the fact that the chats also had pictures that were taken in front of the victim’s house, indicating where she stayed. Therefore, the victims always lived in fear. The chat members threatened to rape them if they did not perform accordingly. Wan was soon informed about the Baksa rooms, which were said to be the worst of them all. Baksa was the criminal mastermind behind the chatrooms, and the journalists were asked to investigate him. Baksa watermarked the pictures he uploaded to the group, “certified by Baksa” or “Baksa’s slave” were written over the pictures. There was a sense of pride that could be assumed from the behavior of the perpetrator. He became the primary suspect in the investigation, and what followed after was an exploration of the rabbit hole of cybercrimes.
Gradually, “Cyber Hell: Exposing an Internet Horror” documentary reveals how there was another similar perpetrator who functioned even before Baksa in the trade of adult exploitative content. Even though justice prevailed in the end, no one can guarantee an end to such offenses. If such content were consumed by the members, then there would be another “Baksa” or another “Godgod” who would tap into the business to quench the thirst of the participants as well as profit from the market.
Who Was Baksa? Was He Arrested?
Baksa lured victims into taking pictures of themselves with the promise of a modeling job. After receiving fully clothed pictures, he would request them to send revealing pictures. He then asked for their bank details to wire them the money. They provided him with all their personal information. After receiving their ID details, he blackmailed them to send more pictures. Since he now had access to their house address, he threatened to harm them if they did not abide by his demand. They could be harmed by a group of men who had their address by now. Fearing for their lives, the victims gave in to his demands. The demands were demeaning, and at times they revolved around inflicting physical pain on the victim’s body. The victims had to perform grotesque acts that were then watched by the other members of the chatroom. Before uploading the pictures, he would disclose information about the victim to the chat, and the members would discuss their plan to harm the victim in real life. If the victim denied taking pictures for him, he would constantly threaten her and invite other members to hurl abuse at her.
Chang Eun-Jo, Broadcasting Writer, JTBC’s Spotlight, explained that the victims believed that the pictures they were sending to Baksa were getting deleted, as that is one of the primary features of Telegram. But the moment they refused to send any more pictures, Baksa started to send them all the pictures they had previously sent. He coerced them to take another picture, promising to delete the rest, and since most victims were teenage girls, they fell for the trap. Baksa exchanged the adult exploitative video for cryptocurrency.
Hankyoreh published a front-page article that exposed Baksa and his operations on Telegram. While they were hoping for it to take the country by storm, that never happened. It was treated as just another crime against women’s case. The team at Hankyoreh had to face further humiliation in the chatrooms. New members joined after reading the article, and together they challenged the team to expose more truth. Baksa acted as if he was out of reach of the journalists; he was basking in the glory of being famous. He started labeling the new victims as Hankyoreh victims, indicating how they were the reason why more girls were being blackmailed now. The story was taken up by JTBC Spotlight, who, after acquiring the information from Hankyoreh, approached the perpetrator differently. They directly demanded Baksa to contact them, and they inquired about his whereabouts. His web of lies was exposed once he started saying different things to different journalists. Apparently, he was living in Cambodia and was the owner of a private investigation agency. He also operated in the narcotics and firearm business. After the police studied the case, they concluded that he was not living in Cambodia, but he was an experienced player on the internet.
The police tracked down one of the victims, a middle school girl, whose pictures Baksa was circulating, threatening that she would commit suicide if the journalists further published any stories about him. When the JTBC news about Baksa aired on television, the chatroom buzzed with humor that later turned into panic when “Bestcoin” was mentioned. “Bestcoin” was the cryptocurrency exchange that Baksa used, and the chat members were worried that their information would be leaked if the police started to probe into the details of his crypto exchange. Baksa calmed his customers down, saying that those who paid for the expensive rooms were safe and the rest could trust him since he had proved himself over time. Fearing consequences, he opened multiple cryptocurrency accounts, each dedicated to a particular operation. The journalists sent the account information to the police, who investigated it further. The police focused on who was receiving the cash in the end. The police studied Baksa’s Telegram ID and discovered that he was previously associated with phone scams and narcotics offenses. They came across a delivery boy, Budda, who cashed the money for Baksa. Budda had a prior police complaint about stalking a minor online. He used to deposit the money at a fire hydrant of a building complex. This fire hydrant was a common location that was used to deposit money for Baksa, and the police started to keep it under surveillance throughout the day. They noticed a young girl pick up the money and she delivered it to a man. She was just a regular girl who took the subway to deliver the money on certain days. The police followed the man, and he went to another location to collect money from another man. The police were now certain that the man was Baksa himself.
Baksa lived in Incheon, and the police followed his every movement. They were waiting for the right opportunity to take him down. They wanted to get hold of him outside his house because if they barged into his house while he was in front of his computer, then he would have the opportunity to delete all the evidence, as that could easily be done on Telegram. After waiting the whole morning, the police watched him leave his house at around 5 pm to ride his bike. His father was teaching him to ride the bike, and after their session, when they were returning, the police got hold of him and arrested the criminal. After his arrest, Baksa (Cho Ju-Bin) simply stated that he was thankful that the police arrested the demon that he could not stop from existing. He disassociated the crimes from himself by blaming them on the demon that existed within him. He did not apologize to his victims.
‘Cyber Hell: Exposing An Internet Horror’ Ending Explained – Who Was Godgod? How Was He Discovered?
Godgod was the creator of the Nth room. He functioned even before Baksa. Team Flame, a team of two young female journalists, studied the Godgod case extensively and published a report on it in 2019. The victims of Godgod were often asked to carve the word “slave” on their bodies, and they performed gruesome tasks, just as in the case of Baksa. Godgod published videos of his victims on the Nth group, stating that he was uploading content of only those slaves who did not perform according to his demands. He reassured the rest, saying that if they continued to comply according to his instructions, their videos would not be uploaded. Team Flame, with the help of police, was able to arrest one of the chat members named “Rabbit,” who had uploaded adult exploitative content. After his arrest, Godgod left the chats, stating that he was a high school student and he needed to focus on his upcoming examinations.
After the Baksa case got publicized, Godgod came online after eleven months and, in one of his chats, demanded to meet Jeong Jae-Won of Y-Story. It was Baksa’s comment on Godgod at the Y-Story show that triggered his interest. Baksa categorized Godgod’s videos as low-content, and that provoked him. A team of ethical hackers, the Red Team, helped Y-Story to track down Godgod’s address. They knew the phone he was using and the public WiFi he used. He was located in Anseong. The police had their arrest warrant ready, and they started to track him down based on the IP addresses he was using. Using this method, they were able to establish his location. His father had a junk shop, and he used the phones that were lying around. The police had screenshots of Godgod’s phone that were visible in one of the videos he uploaded. They got hold of several phones from the junk shop and matched the applications of a phone to Godgod phone’s screenshot to deduce that it was one of the phones used by Godgod. When the police questioned him about the phones that they recovered from the junk shop, he admitted that he was Godgod. His name was Moon Hyung-Wook. Even after his arrest, he had a calm demeanor. He apologized to his victims before being taken away to prison.
The survivors of the cybercrimes contacted the journalists, looking for reassurance that their lives were not completely destroyed. Young schoolgirls who lived with their parents spoke over the phone, coming forward with their experiences. The survivors, who had started to believe that there would be no end to their abuse, found light when people read their stories and hoped for their wellbeing. The arrest helped them to break free and realize that there were people who cared for their lives and that they were not completely alone or forgotten.
Cho Ju-Bin/Baksa received a sentence of 42 years in prison in October 2021. Between 2019 and 2020, he coerced a total of 25 victims to film exploitative content. Moon Hyeong-Wook/Godgod was sentenced to 34 years in prison in November 2021. Between 2017 and 2019, he coerced 20 victims to film exploitative content. While the main perpetrators are in prison, the fear of another crime as brutal as this remains. The dark web is notorious for breeding criminal minds, and perhaps such cases are just the tip of the iceberg. Such crimes put forth how society, in general, perceives women. The perpetrators knew that women could be threatened with their adult pictures since the honor of the family is directly linked to a woman’s body. The victims complied, knowing that their naked pictures would disgrace their families. In a world where women continue to be harassed for reporting abuse, such horrific crimes are bound to exist.
“Cyber Hell: Exposing an Internet Horror” is a 2022 Crime Documentary Film directed by Jin-seong Choi.