Discord has provided more insight into how the shooter who opened fire at a Buffalo, New York supermarket over the weekend used their service prior to the tragic act of violence.
The shooter, 18-year-old Payton Gendron, is charged with first-degree murder in the mass shooting, which left 10 dead and three wounded. In the month before the attack on the Buffalo Tops grocery store, which he researched and targeted in an effort to harm as many Black people as possible, he used Discord to document his plans in extreme detail.
According to Discord, the alleged shooter created an invite-only private server that he used as a “personal journal chat log.” The server had no other members until 30 minutes before the attack began, when a “small group of people” received an invite and joined.
“Prior to that, our records indicate that no other person viewed the diary chat log on this private server,” a Discord spokesperson told TechCrunch. TechCrunch has reached out to the company for more details on server activity and information on how it handles moderation for servers and private messages.
Discord, a text and voice chat app, is best known for its great public chat rooms, but it also allows users to create private invite-only servers. 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 and racist views. He also detailed the logistics of how he would carry out the mass shooting, including the equipment he would wear, his pre-shooting shopping trips and his plans for the day.
While it is unknown which 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 people in my discord groups probably aren’t going to be targeted by ATF and FBI agents,” he wrote. While Discord served as a sort of digital diary of the atrocities he would later commit, he also compiled a nearly 200-page display of his beliefs, weapons, and plans to commit violence in Google Docs.
In early May, he expressed concern that Google might discover his plan for violence in messages sent on Discord’s private server. “Ok, I’m a little stressed because a Google worker is going to see my fucking manifesto,” he wrote. “WHY did I write it in Google Docs? I should have had some other solution.” Unfortunately, those 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 forum riddled with racism, misogyny and extremism. Unlike major social networks like Discord, 4chan does not proactively moderate content and only removes illegal content when necessary. In Discord chat logs. reviewed by TechCrunch, the shooter notes that he “really only became racist” after finding 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 take place in Charlottesville. The company responded by cracking down on a number of servers harboring extremism, though it maintained that it did not read messages on private servers.
Like Reddit, most of Discord’s practical moderation comes from the community moderators within its chat rooms. And like most social businesses, Discord relies on a combination of automated content analysis and human moderators. Last year, the company acquired Sentropy, an artificial intelligence software company that detects and eliminates online hate and bullying, to bolster those efforts.
In the years after the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Discord successfully sought to distance itself from its association with the 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, rebranding itself as a welcoming hub for a broad 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 assisting law enforcement with the ongoing investigation. “Hate has no place on Discord and we are committed to combating violence and extremism.”