“I want to make something that makes the world a better place,” says cofounder Jason Citron, evoking a familiar bit of Silicon Valley idealism by abebrown716
By shutting out white supremacists and reinventing itself to be more accessible, Discord has added millions more users—teachers, boy scouts, book clubs, even Black Lives Matter protestors—and landed a $100 infusion from investors.
New York Timesdetailed the event’s connectionto Discord, and then a Wikileaks-esque collective, Unicorn Riot, began releasing leaked logs of the white nationalists’ conversations on the app.For the Discord founders, the whirlwind of those events were a painful blur. “It was an emotionally intense time for us,” says Vishnevskiy.
“The word ‘horror’ comes to mind,” says Citron. “I’m Jewish. My grandfather fought for America in World War II against the Nazis. It certainly weighed on me that I would be working to somehow facilitate people becoming radicalized. It made me sick. I felt like I was dishonoring my family’s legacy, my ancestry.”
Citron and Vishnevskiy knew they had to make a fast choice about the amount of regulation to impose on their platform, a similar type of reckoning that has taken place more recently on Twitter and Facebook over President Trump’s comments. Over fall 2017, they deleted roughly 100 Alt-Right groups from Discord, a first step. They promised themselves there’d be more to come.
“I want to make something that makes the world a better place,” says Citron, evoking a familiar bit of Silicon Valley idealism. “And that was a real moment where we realized that we really needed to step up our efforts to make sure that that was the case.”
Since Charlottesville, Discord has donea better job of policing itself, with 15% of its employees now part of its Trust and Safety team, a unit that didn’t exist at all in 2017. (For perspective, Facebook pledged to devote a similar figure—about 20% of its employees—to similar tasks across its products but hasn’t publicly stated if it has done so.) These days, users and groups are kicked off using metadata tracking rather than IP addresses, an attempt to better ensure people can’t easily resurface elsewhere on Discord. Updates have made it easier for moderators within a group—who are normal users, not company employees—to report bad behavior swiftly; mods can also add bots, pieces of automated software, to scan for offending language.
An internet meme about teachers likens those using Discord to the vivacious Miss Frizzle from the"Magic School Bus" children's book series while rival Zoom gets Ms. Fowl from"Jimmy Neutron."RedditWary of another Charlottesville, the Trust and Safety team specifically researches white nationalist groups and platforms online to find any new Discord servers that emerge. As it happens, the Alt-Right
has largely migratedto Telegram, a rival messaging app that, unlike Discord, offers the complete anonymity of encrypted communication.Still, Discord is far from squeaky clean. It’s immensely easy to find offensive material even among the largest groups (and much more of it circulates in smaller, more private circles). For instance, one of the largest meme-based groups is called Gates of Autism. It has 212,431 members, and its profile picture is Pepe the Frog, a white nationalist emblem. A simple search in the chat history for the derogatory term “faggot” produced results that spilled over hundreds of pages. Members widely trade memes and GIFs that are either explicitly or implicitly sexual. Asked about this content, the founders declined to comment.
Nonetheless, experts on digital hate speech generally agree that Discord has worked diligently to get its act together since 2017, and it is, largely, in no worse shape than its competitors. Those same experts also agree that this is a sad comment about the internet—and social media writ large. “Discord has improved unambiguously, and I applaud that,” says Will Partin, an analyst at Data & Society, an internet research institute. “Every platform is kind of the same: Every single platform has content moderation problems.”
Afunny thing happenedas Discord was righting its wrongs. YouTube and Instagram influencers began using the app to more extensively interact with their communities, something that even Citron and Vishnevskiy did not totally understand until they read about Discord in
a March 2019 storyfrom TheAtlantic.com. The influencers liked the app, according to the article, because they could chat directly with their fans without worrying that their message—maybe promoting a new video or a post—might get buried by an algorithm-based feed. “That made us go, Hmmmm,” Citron says. “We were like, Okay, there’s probably something here.”
Nothing makes Citron and Vishnevskiy clam up faster than a question about Nitro’s next features. “I don't want to preannounce them. Whenever we've done that in the past, it basically means we have to ship it”—fast—“or everyone gets angry.”That story plus internal research that uncovered some unique Discord groups—like one devoted to recording an amateur hip-hop album—prompted them to do something they’d never done before: complete a massive survey of users. In 2019, they sent out a 60-minute survey containing 23 questions. The volume of responses, they say, told them they not only had a rabid fanbase. It also told them that Discorders used the app for much more than gaming and that they found the app complicated to learn.
That led the company to look for ways to broaden its appeal and to simplify its user experience. Those ideas have picked up urgency since the coronavirus ended life as the world knew it. In May, video chat within servers was rolled out, a feature originally planned to debut in the second half of the year. Discord’s “go live” feature will soon be renamed to better reflect what it is: Screen Share—a way, yes, to share your screen. Thinking ahead, Discord hopes both of these features attract users who need virtual learning tools.
The website also got a makeover, launched this week. The old illustrations of controllers and computers have been replaced with images of more general geekery: a wizard, a lady frog reading a book, a caballero who is a toadstool. There are templates now for teachers and others to quickly create Discord groups. Mentions of “gaming” come only after ones of “pet photos” and school clubs. Its cutesy new tagline: “Your Place to Talk.”
The revenue engine for all this is the Nitro subscription service. (Citron and Vishnevskiy refuse to sell ads or user data.) There are two Nitro versions, a “classic” plan for $4.99 a month, or $49.99 a year, or an upgraded one for $9.99 a month or $99.99 annually. They both give members the ability to customize their username (each handle has a four-digit number randomly appended, but pay up, and you can use choose that number), stream themselves at better qualities and bring their custom emojis across groups (usually they can only exist within one group). The more expensive Nitro subscription also lets users “boost” their groups. If enough Discorders pitch in and accumulate enough boosts, they can get similar customization features for their groups. More than 1 million users have subscribed to Nitro,
Forbesestimates.Nothing makes Citron and Vishnevskiy clam up faster than a question about Nitro’s next features. “I don't want to preannounce them. Whenever we've done that in the past, it basically means we have to ship it”—fast—“or everyone gets angry,” says Citron. Josh Elman, a Greylock venture partner who sits on Discord’s board, offers up a little more insight. “This becomes a creative challenge and opportunity. I could build icebreaker features if I wanted to build a group that was a club. I could have events and calendars that could be built into that. And I'm just throwing out dummy examples,” he says.
While Citron won’t give specifics, he is happy to talk about the vision, speaking over a Discord video chat from his San Mateo, California home. As he and Vishnevskiy catch up over cocktails—a whiskey, neat, for him and a greyhound for Vishnevskiy—he talks about what he sees Discord becoming: something akin to the bar from
Cheers, a show that he has caught a few times on Nick at Nite reruns. “A place where everybody knows your name. A place that you can be with your friends, talk and share as much as you want.” Read more: Forbes »
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Discord Was Once The Alt-Right’s Favorite Chat App. Now It’s Gone Mainstream And Scored A New $3.5 Billion ValuationBy shutting out white supremacists and reinventing itself to be more accessible, Discord has added millions more users—teachers, boy scouts, book clubs, even Black Lives Matter protestors—and landed a $100 infusion from investors. Define Alt-right please, I have no idea what it is. Me..n 🎵 DOPE😊👍💯🔥🎹
Discord Was Once The Alt-Right’s Favorite Chat App. Now It’s Gone Mainstream And Scored A New $3.5 Billion ValuationBy shutting out white supremacists and reinventing itself to be more accessible, Discord has added millions of more diverse users—teachers, book clubs, Black Lives Matter protestors—and landed a $100 million infusion from investors by abebrown716 abebrown716 What about black supremacists? abebrown716 ...and wait for it..... abebrown716 And test scores go down and down and down...
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