Discord has provided further insight into how the gunman who opened fire at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York last weekend, used his service prior to the tragic act of violence.
The gunman, 18-year-old Payton Gendron, is charged with first degree murder in the mass shooting that left 10 dead and three injured. In the month leading up to the Buffalo Tops supermarket attack, which he researched and selected in an effort to harm as many black people as possible, he used Discord to document his plans in great detail.
According to Discord, the suspected shooter created an invite-only private server, which he used as a “personal diary chat log.” The server had no other members until 30 minutes before the attack started, when a “small group of people” received an invitation and joined.
“Prior to this, our records indicate that no other people have seen the diary chat log on this private server,” a Discord spokesperson told TechCrunch. TechCrunch reached out to the company for more details on the server’s activity and an understanding of how it handles moderation for private servers and messages.
Discord, a text and voice chat app, is best known for its large, public messaging spaces, but it also allows users to create private servers that can only be used by invitation. In updates to the Discord server, which shares a username with the Twitch channel he used to livestream the shooting, the suspect thoroughly documented his violent, racist views. He also described the logistics of how he would conduct the mass shooting, including the gear he would use, his shopping trips prior to the shooting, and his day plans.
While it is not known which other Discord servers Gendron was active on, he refers to his activity on the app in the chat logs. “Until now, I didn’t even think that the people in my disagreement groups are unlikely to be ambushed by ATF and FBI agents,” he wrote. While Discord served as a sort of digital diary for the atrocities he would later commit, he also put together a nearly 200-page screen about his beliefs, weapons, and plan to commit violence in Google Docs.
In early May, he expressed concern that Google would discover its plan for violence in messages sent on its private Discord server. “Okay, I’m a little stressed that a Google employee will see my manifesto fuck,” he wrote. “WHY did I write it on google docs, I should have had another solution.” Unfortunately, those concerns were unfounded. After the shooting, Google removed the document for a violation of its terms of service.
The suspect, who streamed the shooting live on Twitch, also spent time on 4chan’s /pol/, a notorious sub-message board rife with racism, misogyny and extremism. Unlike mainstream social networks like Discord, 4chan does not perform proactive content moderation and only removes illegal content when needed. In Discord chat logs. reviewed by TechCrunch, the shooter notes that he “got really racist” after encountering white supremacist ideas on 4chan.
Five years ago, Discord was involved in the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally, an open rally of white supremacists and other far-right extremists that ended with a dead counter-protester. The rally participants and organizers gathered on private Discord servers to plan the day’s events and discuss the logistics of what would take place in Charlottesville. The company responded by cracking down on some servers that host extremism, but claimed it couldn’t read messages on private servers.
Like Reddit, most of Discord’s hands-on moderation comes from community moderators in the chat rooms. And like most social businesses, Discord relies on a mix of automated content scanning and human moderators. Last year, the company acquired Sentropy, an AI software company that detects and removes hate and harassment online, to bolster those efforts.
In the years following the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Discord successfully tried to distance itself from its association with the far-right extremists and white supremacists that once called the social network their home. More recently, Discord has also moved some distance between its current brand and its origins as a popular chat app for gamers, reforming itself as an inviting hub for a huge spectrum of thriving online communities.
“Our deepest condolences go out to the victims and their families,” a Discord spokesperson said of the tragedy in Buffalo, adding that it is helping law enforcement with the ongoing investigation. “Hate has no place on Discord and we are committed to fighting violence and extremism.”