What is Discord? Buffalo shooting prompts NY AG to investigate multiple apps

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By Geoff Herbert
www.syracuse.com

BUFFALO, NY — What is Discord? The popular messaging app is under intense scrutiny after an 18-year-old Broome County man allegedly discussed plans for a deadly Buffalo shooting in advance.

New York State Attorney General Letitia James announced on Wednesday that she is launching investigations into Discord, Twitch, 4chan and 8chan to see what role online messaging platforms and social media have played in the attack that killed 10 people on Saturday. Payton Gendron reportedly wrote about his plan in a 180-page manifesto and also detailed how he planned to target black people, months before he opened fire with an AR-15-style assault rifle at a Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo Saturday.

Popular messaging app Discord is under scrutiny after an 18-year-old allegedly discussed plans for a deadly Buffalo shooting in advance.

Popular messaging app Discord is under scrutiny after an 18-year-old allegedly discussed plans for a fatal shooting in Buffalo in advance. (Discord, Twitter)

“The terrorist attack in Buffalo has once again exposed the depth and danger of online forums that propagate and promote hate,” James said. “That an individual could publish detailed plans to commit such an act of hate without consequence and then broadcast it for the world to see is chilling and unfathomable. As we continue to mourn and honor the lives that have been stolen, we are taking serious steps to investigate these companies for their role in this attack.

What is Discord?

Discord describes itself as “a voice, video and text communication service used by over one hundred million people to hang out and talk with their friends and communities”. It offers online communities on “servers” similar to chat rooms, with real-time audio and video chat, and earns most of its money through Nitro, a subscription-based service that offers additional features such as emoji hi-res animated video.

[RELATED: What police departments need to know about TikTok]

According to CNBC, the app launched in 2015 and quickly became one of the most popular messaging apps for users looking to find groups of people with similar interests. It was initially popular for video game players, but grew to over 150 million monthly active users; in 2020, the site changed its name from “Chat for Gamers” to “Chat for Communities and Friends”.

How did the Buffalo shooter use Discord?

Authorities say Gendron kept a diary on Discord where he detailed plans to shoot as many black people as possible at Buffalo’s Tops supermarket while referencing the ‘great replacement theory’ and his goal of terrorizing the no. -whites and non-Christians from the United States The manifesto also said that it researched major cities in upstate New York to find the highest black population; the zip code where the shooting took place is 78% black and 11 of the 13 people who were shot were black.

Gendron also reportedly posted hundreds of messages on Discord suggesting he was considering targeting Destiny USA in Syracuse. The mall’s ZIP code is 29 percent black, according to the U.S. Census.

“I’ll have to see if I can find a higher black population density, otherwise south Syracuse is the place,” he reportedly wrote. “I have to check out the mall in Syracuse.”

The Associated Press reports that Gendron’s diary and his racist and anti-Semitic entries from last November included step-by-step descriptions of his plans for the assault, a detailed account of a reconnaissance trip he made to Buffalo in March and maps from the store which he drew by hand. He also invited other Discord users to check his log 30 minutes before he carried out the attack on Saturday.

“What we know at this time is that a private, invite-only server has been created by the suspect to serve as his personal chat log,” a Discord spokesperson said in a statement. “About 30 minutes before the attack, however, a small group of people were invited and joined the server. Prior to this, our records indicate that no one else has seen the log chat log on this private server.

Discord said it deleted Gendron’s diary as soon as the platform became aware of it and is cooperating with the NY AG investigation.

What other online platforms has the Buffalo shooter used?

In addition to Discord, Gendron reportedly used 4chan and 8chan, two online chat rooms, to “discuss and amplify” his plans for the shoot ahead of time, James said. Endadget reports that 4chan and 8chan have long been known for “a do-it-all approach to content” and accusations of hate speech.

The shooter also livestreamed the entire attack on Twitch, a video streaming platform, while wearing a body armor and wearing a helmet camera, officials said. Twitch said it removed the video within minutes, but videos were shared on Twitter, Facebook and other sites that sought to quickly remove the violent imagery.

What will happen to Discord, Twitch and other apps?

Engadget reports that the investigation could increase pressure on internet services to more proactively root out hate speech and threats, but will not necessarily lead to action. Broome County District Attorney Michael A. Korchak told CBS that online speech investigations can be difficult because of the First Amendment, but agreed that social media platforms populated by racist ideals are “something that should be watched”.

Gendron returned to court Thursday as authorities, including the FBI, continue to investigate possible hate crime and terrorism charges. He pleaded not guilty to first degree murder on his first court appearance.

©2022 Advance Local Media LLC. Visit syracuse.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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