What is Discord, the chat app used by the Buffalo suspect?

Vile conversations unfold on the popular chat service, but so do wholesome ones

(Washington Post illustration)

Before he allegedly killed 10 people at a Buffalo supermarket on May 14, the 18-year-old suspected shooter left a string of racist writings in online forum Discord, a popular voice, video and text chat app.

As early as November, the teen wrote messages on Discord documenting his plan to allegedly murder Black people in a mass shooting, according to a compilation of messages reviewed by The Washington Post. Discord has since said the messages were visible only to the suspect until he shared them with others the day of the attack.

Just before Buffalo shooting, 15 users signed into suspect’s chatroom, says person familiar with review

Along with WhatsApp, Telegram and Signal, Discord has come up in connection to racist violence before. White supremacists who attended a Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in August 2017, at which multiple counterprotesters were injured or killed, also used Discord private chats to organize before the event.

But the service is much bigger — and more complicated — than those dark moments suggest. Discord developed a reputation as a haven for Generation Z and gamers after its launch in 2015. Today, many of its more than 150 million monthly active users don’t talk about games at all. And some say Discord’s setup allows for healthier and more engaged online communities.

Claire Bourdon, a software developer in Indiana, joined the app after someone on Reddit mentioned a Discord “server,” or community chat, that helps people outside the tech industry learn to code.

Now, she visits the server every day to help newbie developers. The age range is broad, she said — from high-schoolers to people in their 60s — and a handful of moderation tools keep the vibes healthy, she said. (Bourdon’s group has a “no foul language” policy, and she has seen people get immediately booted for making offensive remarks, she said.)

“It’s the most wholesome place I’ve ever been on the Internet,” she said.

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