Not long ago, it was a humble chat platform for video game enthusiasts.
Now, thanks to his role in one of the largest intelligence leaks in US history, Discord is suddenly the focus of national attention and mounting questions about how Classified Pentagon documents circulated about him for weeks, maybe months.
It’s a sudden public turn for a platform that has quietly amassed a gigantic user base and taken an increasingly central place in internet culture. Fueled by a surge in popularity during the pandemic, Discord has quietly become a critical piece of the internet’s social infrastructure.
discord website says the platform has more than 150 million monthly active users. It was the eighth most downloaded global social networking app in 2022, according to Apptopia, an app analytics company.
Launched in 2015 by gamers Jason Citron and Stan Vishnevskiy, Discord was created to help gamers chat more easily while playing games together. While there are similar chat services out there, Discord was a more accessible and short service for gamers.
The application is organized into what are called «servers», which function as larger communities in which many chat rooms can exist. Its functionality is similar to that of many workplace chat programs, such as Slack. A user can create a server for their friends or followers to join, or they can join someone else’s server. Some servers are invite-only, while others are public. Discord reports which has 19 million active servers per week.
Once on a server, users can access text or voice chat rooms. Approximately 100 people can join a voice chat. Video chat services on Discord are more limited.
Chat rooms were one of the first pillars of the Internet, although old-fashioned as social media became mainstream. Discord was successful in part due to its adoption of already fervent gaming communities, giving them a space to easily congregate online.
The leaked documents crossed paths with the robust gaming community on Discord, as they were found on servers that focus on the video game Minecraft, as well as a minor YouTube celebrity.
Now, Discord is home to a wide variety of communities. YouTubers, LGBTQ advocacy groups, fans of TV shows and movies, cryptocurrency groups, anime fans, and more have all created spaces on Discord.
Discord has found itself at the center of some controversy as it has grown more popular. In 2017, some organizers of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia used Discord to plan the event. The app was used by the suspect in the Highland Park, Illinois, shooting that killed seven in 2022, and by the gunman who killed 10 people in a Buffalo, New York, supermarket last May. Authorities said the Buffalo shooter used Discord to document his plans for the shooting.
“The massacre was a hate crime and a stark display of the grave dangers of white supremacy,” Discord said in a statement. «We denounce white supremacy and the actions that stem from it in the strongest possible terms.» He also said that he would cooperate with law enforcement.
While Discord Community Principles banning content such as hate speech, threats of violence, and making sexually explicit content accessible to minors, it was not immediately clear if the government documents shared on the platform violated these guidelines or its terms of service.
Discord did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Following the leak of documents, the Biden administration said it would consider expanding the way it monitors social media and chat rooms. The president and administration officials were informed about the leak last week.
Currently, law enforcement agencies can monitor public chat rooms, but legally they can’t monitor a private online group without probable cause, Glenn Gerstell, who was general counsel for the National Security Agency from 2015 to 2020, he told NBC News in a recent interview.
“We don’t have and don’t want a system where the US government controls private Internet chats,” Gerstell said.