Discord has provided more insight into how the shooter who opened fire at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York over the weekend used his service before the tragic act of violence.
The shooter, Payton Gendron, 18, is charged with first degree murder in the mass shooting, which left 10 dead and three injured. In the month leading up to the attack on the Buffalo Tops grocery store, which he researched and selected with the goal of harming as many black people as possible, he used Discord to document his plans in great detail.
According to Discord, the alleged shooter created a private, invite-only server that he used as a “personal diary chat log.” The server had no other members until 30 minutes before the attack began, when a “small group of people” received an invitation and joined.
“Prior to this, our records indicate that no other people viewed the log chat log on this private server,” a Discord spokesperson told TechCrunch. TechCrunch reached out to the company for more details on server activity and insight into how it handles private server and message moderation.
Discord, a text and voice chat app, is best known for its large public chat rooms, but it also allows users to create private, invite-only servers. In updates from the Discord server, which shares a username with the Twitch channel he used to livestream the shooting, the suspect thoroughly documented his violent and racist views. He also detailed the logistics of how he would do the mass shooting, including the equipment he would use, his pre-shoot errands, and his plans for the day.
While it’s unclear what other Discord servers Gendron was active on, he does reference his activity on the app in the chat logs. “I didn’t even think until now that members of my discord groups would likely not be attacked 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 compiled a nearly 200-page screen of his beliefs, weapons, and plan to commit acts of violence in Google Docs.
In early May, he expressed concern that Google would find out about his violent plan in messages sent to the private Discord server. “Okay I’m a little stressed that a Google worker is going to see my fuck manifesto,” he wrote. “WHY did I write this on google docs, I should have had another solution.” Unfortunately, these concerns were unfounded. After the shooting, Google removed the document for violating its terms of service.
The suspect, who live-streamed the shooting on Twitch, also spent time on 4chan’s /pol/, an infamous sub-message board plagued by racism, misogyny and extremism. Unlike traditional social networks like Discord, 4chan does not do any proactive content moderation and only removes illegal content when necessary. In the Discord chat logs. Reviewed by TechCrunch, the shooter notes that he “only really became racist” after encountering white supremacist ideas on 4chan.
Five years ago, Discord was involved in the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally, an open gathering of white supremacists and other far-right extremists that ended in the death of a counter-protester. Rally participants and organizers met on private Discord servers to plan the day’s events and discuss the logistics of what would happen in Charlottesville. The company responded by cracking down on a number of servers hosting extremism, while claiming that it does not read messages on private servers.
Like Reddit, most of Discord’s hands-on moderation comes from community moderators within its chat rooms. And like most social enterprises, Discord relies on a mix of automated content analysis and human moderators. Last year, the company acquired Sentropy, an artificial intelligence software company that detects and removes online hate and harassment, to bolster those efforts.
In the years since the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Discord has managed to distance itself from its association with far-right extremists and white supremacists who once called the social network home. More recently, Discord has also put some distance between its current brand and its origins as a popular chat app for gamers, reframing itself as an inviting hub for a wide range of thriving online communities.
“Our deepest condolences go out to the victims and their families,” a spokesperson for Discord said of the Buffalo tragedy, adding that they are assisting law enforcement with the ongoing investigation. “Hate has no place on Discord and we are committed to fighting violence and extremism.”