What Is Discord, the Social App Where Pentagon Documents Were Found?


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Discord, the eight-year-old social media and messaging platform popular among young people and video game players that has increasingly become a mainstream part of the internet, has once again run into controversy.

Leaked Pentagon documents were said to have been circulating on the platform as early as March before appearing on other sites. The leaks are the latest incident in recent years in which Discord has played a key role.

Discord was introduced in 2015 by Jason Citron, a video game player and computer programmer. Mr. Citron’s game development studio was struggling to find traction, so he created a chat application that people could use to communicate with one another while playing games.

The platform was a niche product until the pandemic, when young people were searching for ways to chat with their friends and joining online communities. By late 2021, it had more than 150 million active users each month, up from 56 million in 2019. It was most recently valued at $14.7 billion, according to PitchBook, a market data provider.

Discord is similar to the workplace tool Slack. There is no central social feed or timeline with posts for users to scroll through. Instead, it is split into servers — essentially, chat rooms — designed for specific groups or interests. Those servers are divided further into individual, topic-based channels.

Users can join public Discord servers, some of which have millions of members. Some servers are dedicated to discussion of specific games, like League of Legends or Fortnite, while others are communities for people to discuss art, music or artificial intelligence. They are similar to Facebook groups.

There are also private Discord servers, which require an invitation to join. These are often smaller communities, sometimes for a group of friends to message one another while they are online, just like an iMessage group chat. Because of the nature of these small, private servers, they often lack the moderation or platform oversight that a larger public server would have.

Discord has faced several controversies over the years regarding harmful content on its platform, including white nationalists organizing the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017 on Discord servers, and the shooter who killed 10 people at a Buffalo grocery store posting his plans and racist messages on the platform before his attack last year.

The company has said that it has become more serious about content moderation, and that 15 percent of its more than 900 employees work on its trust and safety teams. Discord’s community guidelines prohibit hate speech, harassment, threats, violent extremism, child sexual abuse material and misinformation. It was unclear whether the leaked documents violated the company’s guidelines.

Enforcing its policies has been a tricky issue for Discord, particularly because of the small and private nature of many of its servers. The company has strengthened its automated tools for detecting harassing or offensive messages. It is also reliant on members of Discord servers to report violations to the company. Many Discord servers function as their own miniature governments, with the creator of the server deputizing other members to enforce the rules and giving them the power to prohibit miscreants from sending messages or kick them out of the server entirely.

Discord works with law enforcement officials by turning over user information and preserving records when it has received an “enforceable legal process,” the company said in an online description of its policies. It also works with agencies when there are cases of “immediate danger” or “self-harm.”

Last year, the company said it was doing “everything we can to assist law enforcement in the investigation” of the Buffalo shooter’s postings on its platform. Within a few days of the attack, the company posted on its website that it had banned the shooter’s account and deleted the server on which he posted his diary. Discord said Sunday that it was working with the authorities on the leaked Pentagon documents, as well.

“In regards to the apparent breach of classified material, we are cooperating with law enforcement,” a company spokeswoman said in a statement. “As this remains an active investigation, we cannot provide further comment at this time.”


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