Discord announced it will be removing all games from Nitro, almost one year after adding a collection of games to the paid subscription service. On October 15, 2019, users will no longer have access to 100+ games that were included with the service.
Last year, Discord began offering a library of games to any users who paid for the Nitro subscription. This is a premium tier of Discord that also offers users different bonuses including larger file upload limits, streaming video options and server boosts.
After a year of reviewing data and listening to users, Discord determined that most Nitro subscribers weren’t playing the free games. So instead of renewing various contracts for these free games for another year, Discord has decided to end the Nitro games program and remove all games from the service.
Nitro and Nitro Classic, a cheaper plan with fewer options, will continue to be available and Discord is planning on adding more features to these services.
Discord also clarified that any games that users bought through Discord will still be available to play. The only games being removed are the games included with Nitro subscriptions.
Discord, the only way young people communicate via voice after we collectively agreed to stop answering phone calls several years ago, is trying to be more open about how it handles harassment, threats, doxxing, and other forms of abuse on its platform. In order to do this, it plans to release regular “transparency reports,” the first of which is available to peruse now.
The idea, says Discord, is to keep people clued into the decision-making underlying the 250-million-user chat service so that people can understand why things do and, in some cases, don’t get done.
“We believe that publishing a Transparency Report is an important part of our accountability to you—it’s kind of like a city’s crime statistics,” said the company. “We made it our goal not only to provide the numbers for you to see, but also to walk you through some obstacles that we face every day so that you can understand why we make the decisions we do and what the results of those decisions are.”
The numbers are fascinating, albeit not wholly unexpected if you display symptoms of being Too Online. First, a graph of reports received by Discord from the start of the year until April:
“Other” is the most reported category, but harassment comes in behind it at 17.3 percent. Significant pieces of the multi-colored pie also go to hacks/cheats, threatening behavior, NSFW content, exploitative content, doxxing, spamming, raiding, malware, and self-harm. Discord does not mince words in describing what these categories refer to. Exploitative content is defined as “A user discovers their intimate photos are being shared without their consent; two minors’ flirting leads to trading intimate images with each other” while one example of NSFW content is “A user joins a server and proceeds to DM bloody and graphic violent images (gore) to other server members.”
After Discord receives a report, the company’s trust and safety team “acts as detectives, looking through the available evidence and gathering as much information as possible.” Initially, they focus on reported messages, but investigations can expand into entire servers “dedicated to bad behavior” or historical patterns of rule-breaking. “We spend a lot of time here because we believe the context in which something is posted is important and can change the meaning entirely (like whether something’s said in jest, or is just plain harassment),” wrote Discord.
If there’s a violation, the team then takes action, which can mean anything from removing the content in question to removing a whole server from Discord. However, the percentage of reports that caused Discord to spring into action earlier this year was relatively small. Just 12.49 percent of harassment reports got actioned, for example. Other categories saw Discord intervene more often, but most percentages were still relatively small: 33.17 percent for threatening behavior, 6.86 percent for self-harm, 44.34 percent for cheats/hacks, 41.72 percent for doxxing, 60.15 percent for malware, 14.74 percent for exploitative content, 58.09 percent for NSFW content, 28.72 percent for raiding, and the big outlier, 95.09 percent for spam.
Discord explained that action percentages are lower than you might expect because many reports simply don’t pass muster. Some are false or malicious, with people taking words out of context or banding together to report innocent users. Others demand too much for too little. “We may receive a harassment report about a user who said to another user, ‘I hate your dog,’ and the reporter wants the other user banned,” said the company. Other reports that Discord doesn’t action might include information, but no concrete evidence. Lastly, users sometimes apply the wrong category to reports, but Discord says it still actions those, but it may not count toward action percentages.
From January to April, the biggest contributors to bans were spam and exploitative content. Spam accounted for 89 percent of account bans—a total of 119,244 accounts. On the exploitative content side of things, Discord banned 10,642 accounts, and it says it’s doing its best to squelch that issue—perhaps due to its well-documented troubles with child porn in the past.
“We’ve been spending significant resources on proactively handling Exploitative Content, which encompasses non-consensual pornography (revenge porn/’deep fakes’) and any content that falls under child safety (which includes child sexual abuse material, lolicon, minors accessing inappropriate material, and more),” the company wrote. “We think that it is important to take a very strong stance against this content, and while only some four thousand reports of this behavior were made to us, we took action on tens of thousands of users and thousands of servers that were involved in some form of this activity.”
Discord also removed thousands of servers during the first few months of the year, mostly focusing on hacks/cheats. However, servers focused on hate speech, harassment, and “dangerous ideologies”—again, an area where Discord has struggled in the past—are also a big focus. On a related note, the company also discussed its response to videos and memes born of the March 14 Christchurch shooting.
“At first, our primary goal was removing the graphic video as quickly as possible, wherever users may have shared it,” the company said. “Although we received fewer reports about the video in the following hours, we saw an increase in reports of ‘affiliated content.’ We took aggressive action to remove users glorifying the attack and impersonating the shooter; we took action on servers dedicated to dissecting the shooter’s manifesto, servers in support of the shooter’s agenda, and even memes that were made and distributed around the shooting… Over the course of the first ten days after this horrific event, we received a few hundred reports about content related to the shooting and issued 1,397 account bans alongside 159 server removals for related violations.”
Discord closed out the report by saying it believes that this sort of transparency should be “a norm” among tech companies, so that people can “better determine how platforms keep their users safe.” The Anti-Defamation League, an anti-hate organization dedicated to fighting bigotry and defending civil rights, agrees.
“Discord’s first transparency report is a meaningful step toward real tech platform transparency, which other platforms can learn from,” the organization wrote in a statement about Discord’s report. “We look forward to collaborating with them to further expand their transparency efforts, so that the public, government and civil society can better understand the nature and workings of the online platforms that are and will continue to shape our society.”
Any time a friend of Eddie Gill’s calls him on the phone, his first thought is: “Why the fuck are you calling me?”
Gill, a physician from Hingham, MA, is 30 years old—around the age when, according to an oft-cited study by Royal Society Open Science, the number of friendships the average man maintains dramatically declines. He is not a phone guy. He’ll talk to his mom, or his grandparents. Other than that, he finds keeping in touch with friends and family to be as difficult as chasing around his seven-month-old, or working with his patients. Like others his age, Gill says that his close friendships from high school and college have atrophied, not only because of the distance but because of their mutual aversion to talking on the phone.
“The absolute exception,” said Gill, “are the friends I regularly play games with.”
Put Eddie Gill and one of his friends on the phone, and it would be painful for both parties—stilted conversation, awkward silences, brusque goodbyes. But drop them into a game of Apex Legends and the conversation flows freely.
Over Xbox voice chat, Gill gabs with his buddies about the latest Game of Thrones episode, their favorite NFL teams and, sometimes, their personal lives. When his wife was pregnant, he told his friends over a game of Destiny 2. Like over two dozen other people Kotaku spoke to—the vast majority of whom were men—Gill says online gaming has replaced phone calls, and even real-life meetups. It’s cemented male relationships that might otherwise have evaporated.
“I don’t think I would be as close with these guys if we didn’t hang out online the way we do,” Gill says of his childhood friends with whom he plays Apex Legends. “It would be impossible.”
Nobody wants to be alone, without anyone to confide in or commiserate with. Another truth is that a lot of people are unlikely to immediately speed-dial their college roommate to ask for relationship advice or talk through their workplace troubles when life gets thorny—especially men, as researchers interviewed by Kotaku attested. It’s a little heartwarming, then, that the men we spoke to said they rely on online games and voice chat to achieve the interpersonal closeness that can feel contrived or heavy-handed in a prearranged phone call. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to the apparent paradox—phone, bad; game, good—but the men who took a stab at answering it had some interesting explanations.
To find people to speak with for this story, I put out a call on my Twitter feed, saying I wanted to talk to people who prefer in-game voice chat to phone calls. (Twitter analytics indicate that 75 percent of my 13,000 followers are male.) Of the dozens of people who responded, the vast majority were men. Of the four women who reached out, two of them contacted me to say that my description of the type of person I wanted to talk to perfectly described a close male friend or relative.
“Discord has proven to be really effective glue,” said Joshua Trevett of the popular gaming chat app. “It lets you see in real time whether people are hanging out, and decide whether you want to join them.” Trevett, 29, grew up in North Carolina and is now living the fast-paced New York life as a culture magazine editor. His Discord server has become a grab bag of childhood friends, friendly acquaintances, and friends-of-friends, all of whom he now describes as “semi-permanent fixtures in our gaming hours.”
Most gaming platforms let users know when their friends are online or what game they’re playing, also offering a method for getting in touch. Discord, for example, displays a green light next to a friend’s name, plus details on what game they’re playing. On the PlayStation 4, PC, and Xbox One, players can request to join friends’ groups in online multiplayer games if they’re visibly online, like dropping down a coaster and a pint of beer at your friends’ bar table.
Most of the men I talked to said they play Overwatch, League of Legends, Apex Legends,or The Division 2—all multiplayer games that benefit from coordination and strategizing over a microphone. “Most of the games I end up playing are games that my friends also have an interest in,” says Peter Zhang, 31, an esports stream producer based in Maryland. “If I’m interested in a single player game, I’ll stream it so my friends can watch and either voice or text chat with me in Discord/Twitch.” Six people said they only play games their friends enjoy, since spending time with them is their primary objective. Eddie Gill said he would not play Apex Legends alone.
That “time spent” isn’t the sort of focused, vigilant communication of two people out to dinner. Playing an online game, nobody has to pay full attention to another person. When you’re clicking heads and strategizing raids, it’s easy to forget there’s another human on the line with a full and complex offline life. It seems counter-intuitive, but these moments of deep concentration and long periods of silence are what make games’ voice chat more comfortable than phone calls, where participants often expect complete immersion in the conversation. It’s non-committal.
“I can see two friends are in a lobby, pop in, say hi, and then leave without worrying that they will feel abandoned by me,” says Ehren Wessel, a 29-year-old software developer from Minnesota. “I usually only use the phone when calling to schedule some kind of appointment.”
For Zhang, phones are a more structured way to “exchange pleasantries, catch up, ask for stuff we might need, and then hang up.”
“It’s different than sitting in game with a friend for a few hours with the option of talking about anything or nothing,” he said. “Even if you don’t end up doing much together—if my friend needs a warm body (and not much else) to help him complete a quest or something, I’ll push buttons every now and then to help and then continue doing what I’m doing on my second monitor while we just shoot the shit.”
Mike Mahardy, an editor at GameSpot, has a brother who has been in the military for two decades, since Mike was in grammar school. Still, chatting over the phone always felt “stilted,” he said. “We would catch up, go through the motions, and plan for the next phone call.” Their regular check-ins began to feel less labored when the brothers began grouping up online for some Diablo 3 or Destiny, games that Mahardy said “offered something for us to simultaneously focus on without chatting specifically to catch up.
“It almost lifted the pressure off the conversation, and just allowed us to… be brothers again,” he said. “The games are sort of a substitute for driving, or chopping wood, or whatever the hell guys used to do when they weren’t comfortable just talking,”
Three researchers I spoke to say that they do think that there are specific reasons why men prefer catching up casually over games instead of segmenting out intentional phone time. One of them, Robin Dunbar, is a professor of evolutionary psychology at the University of Oxford and a contributor to the aforementioned study about how adult male friendships decline. Men’s relationships, he said in an email, are “underpinned by ‘doing stuff together.’” Men’s phone calls, he added, are statistically shorter than women’s. “I sometimes joke that this is because the only reason for phoning someone is to say ‘I’ll see you down the bar at 7 o’clock,’” he said.
“I also think we have raised boys and girls differently and given girls more emotional language tools to use than we give boys,” said Dan Hemmerly-Brown, a 39-year-old technician for a market research firm. Hemmerly-Brown says that if his wife is concerned about something, she’ll call her friend to talk it through. For him, though, it might get brought up over Xbox voice chat with his gaming buddies. Fourteen other men I talked to agreed with the idea that online gaming is a casual way to stave off the loneliness and emotional isolation that can come with getting older.
Chris Richardson, 28, a mechanical engineer, told the story of how his good friend’s wife came up to him at their wedding to tell him that his co-op gaming with her husband while he was out of state on an internship “made him feel so much less lonely because he was living alone in a new town.” Richardson wasn’t likely to have called and checked in. Growing up, when Richardson talked to a childhood friend on the phone, he’d only do it “while playing Super Smash Bros. Melee and listening to Linkin Park. Very similar to what I do now via game chats.”
Dmitri Williams, a professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication, said that a lot of this is due to how boys and girls are socialized from a young age. He says that boys are pushed farther away from their families’ emotional support and encouraged to be strong and independent.
“Women tend to be more conversational and more emotionally open than men on average,” Williams said, “and so it’s not surprising that men would seek to be less emotional in any medium, including voice.” While everyone needs emotional support, he says, it can feel awkward for men if “emotional support” is the stated reason for initiating an interaction. “Guys will go drink, play football, play games together. All of that would serve the function of emotional connection, but they would be uncomfortable if you labeled it like that,” he said.
On the other hand, Williams said, when his wife hosts her book club, she’s open about the fact that it’s not always about the books. “They have no problem saying that,” he said. “Guys playing games—it’s really no different, except for the awareness of it.”
Adam Johns is a clinician and the founder of Game To Grow, a therapy group that uses role-playing games to support social skills and mental health. He said he has noticed that his male therapy clients are more likely to interact over an activity. He has clients who say that they would never talk to their school acquaintances outside of gaming with them online, and have never sought to close the IRL-URL gap.
“Men generally are less encouraged to socialize about things going on in their lives—the struggles or challenges they may be facing, certainly about feelings they have toward those challenges—but they still want to have a social interaction,” Johns said. “Games can provide an opportunity to bridge that gap, to give them opportunity for social interaction without having to reach out or ask for specific time to discuss the goings-on.”
The two women who play lots of online games and reached out to Kotaku say that they aren’t comfortable with one-on-one phone calls, either, but both of them put it down to generalized social anxiety. “Using voice chat in games has helped me get over a lot of this anxiety because it’s become a more natural feeling to talk to people I don’t know that well or at all,” said Carly Susman, a 27-year-old art director who said she never talked on the phone growing up. “I used to be terrified of game voice chat too!”
And of course, there are plenty of men who have no trouble picking up the phone, or otherwise staying in touch with their friends. When I asked Ohio-based designer John Zidar whether there could be a gendered element to his aversion to phones and preference for Discord, he said he didn’t think so. While he didn’t grow up having lengthy conversations with his guy friends, he said, “a majority of my childhood wasn’t spent interfacing with technology. We’d have short calls to make plans to get together with friends, but we spent enough time together that lengthy phone calls never felt necessary.”
Zidar says he still has longer calls with friends of all genders, even if they aren’t as frequent as his voice chatting in games.
“That said, there aren’t topics I feel comfortable discussing on voice chat that I wouldn’t feel comfortable discussing via the phone,” he said. “To me, they are the same thing.”
The ways we keep in touch are changing every year, and with the introduction of new, well-designed apps and social media networks, our methods of talking are fragmented. We go where our friends and family are, for the most part, but don’t want it to feel like a big deal. Our collective desire to stay connected is stronger, and with channels ranging from full-on video chat to the more opaque email, we are free to choose what level of engagement suits our needs.
What is clear is that video games aren’t just entertainment—they’re communication technologies. When Eddie Gill wants to “open a beer and sit down to play games and talk over the Xbox headset,” he’s not just sitting down to play Apex. He’s keeping his friendships alive.
If you chat with all your friends who game via Discord, it makes a lot of sense to show off what you’re playing. It’s a conversation starter, it tells your friends what console you’re using and maybe even gives them a sense of your mood. (Everybody has their own comfort games).
If you’re playing on PC or Xbox One, sharing your activity on Discord is as easy as downloading an app and signing in. On PlayStation 4 it’s a bit trickier: PS4 does not have official Discord integration, but a third-party developer has created a Discord app that will show your PS4 activity, similar to how Discord does it on its own platform.
To use it, download the PlayStationDiscord app on your computer. There are buttons for the Windows and Mac versions on the site. Once you’ve installed it, open the app and sign in with your PSN account. (As Windows Central points out, the app signs into PSN using an OAuth login, so it does not store any login info). Once you’re logged in, make sure “rich presence” has been enabled.
Tustin, the developer, put up a full video breakdown on YouTube, in case you want to see the whole process and what each screen looks like.
In case you’re wondering, Rich Presence is an API feature that allows third-party developers to create apps that independently surface information to users’ Discord accounts. There are third-party apps that use it to let Discord show people what you’re listening to on iTunes and watching on Netflix, among other things.
There is one downside to Rich Presence apps, including PlayStationDiscord—they only run so long as your computer is on and the app is running. Presumably, this isn’t a problem if you are actively using Discord while you’re playing, but if you’re playing PS4 without the app open, or if you were planning to use Discord on your phone, the information will not show up unless you leave the app on in the background.
When my Discord server first added Smilebot, everything seemed normal. It was a little widget that spewed emojis and told you what your mood was. When I returned to my Discord after a plane flight, competing corporate factions in our sever were at war with each other in a competition to craft materials and please faceless overlords.
Smilebot is the brain-child of Vancouver-based designer James Lantz and is marketed as an “antidepressant for your Discord community.” On the surface, it’s a silly bot where you can collect smiles and gamble with them. Ask and it might guess your mood or make a little dab emoji. It’s actually a game in disguise. If you’re into bizarre, ARG-esque competitions then I suggest tossing it into your Discord and keeping away from spoilers. Otherwise, read on.
Underneath Smilebot’s happy surface is a warren of micro-games and unceasing toil. Its presence in my server started simple and has only grown more complex, sprawling out like Frog Fractions into a competition that’s dominated my Discord. (It makes sense; James Lantz is the son of Frank Lantz, the creator of the absurd clicker game Universal Paperclips.)
I started playing Smilebot by collecting some free smiles and gambling them in our chat. After a handful of gambles, I was able to purchase upgrades and perks including “Benefits Packages” and “Mindboosters” that automatically produced smiles for me. Where I had been wasting time idly gambling smiles, I eventually started generating millions per minute. These could be spent on more and more perks, including taco parties that filled my DMs with taco emojis and a backdoor into the bot’s inner workings. Before I really understood what was happening I was assigned to the InnoLabs division of a nameless company—some friends were on my team, others were assigned to SecOps—and tasked with various mission, such as getting my friends to input random strings of numbers into chat. Eventually, I was digging through fake emails and playing a text adventure in my DMs.
That text adventure was a piece of strange social engineering. None of the actions I could perform made any progress. It turns out that I could only progress in the game if my friends input special chat commands into our Discord’s chat. For a while, I was stuck in a strange limbo, unable to move further into Smilebot’s labyrinthine plot until I figured out that I needed to manipulate my friends (some of whom had already endured this doomed adventure game) into typing the commands needed to break me out of the game.
Instead of returning to my smile harvesting, I was thrust into a new game where I would craft emojis and use them to write lines of code. I also needed to eat or drink in the game or else I would die and get a game over. This is where I’ve left off: replaying this numbing game, crafting more and more items, and trying to write more code so that my InnoLabs pals and I can overthrow SecOps’ lead. Why? I don’t know. Will this ever end? I don’t know. I might spend forever replaying a chatbot game for higher and higher scores in the hope that something, anything might happen.
Smilebot isn’t a happy little bot for your Discord community. It’s a sick social experiment that you drop on an ignorant population. Eventually, they will be gambling smiles and crafting useless emojis in a terrifying forever war. It’s a mixture of text game and ARG that is sure to turn any Discord upside down.
The deadly white supremacist Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville marked a turning point for fascist organizing. Hundreds of neo-Nazis and white supremacists made their way to the Southern city in August 2017, hoping to unite their efforts into a far-right show of force. The violence of the day culminated in the murder of anti-racist protester Heather Heyer, and physically and emotionally injured many others.
Antifascists took accountability efforts into their own hands after Charlottesville, organizing doxxing campaigns against the far-right. Some fascists lost their jobs as a result. Antifascists have repeatedly shown up to counter fascist groups in the streets, and to deny them speaking platforms. Some groups have also been financially cut off from online payment processors, including PayPal and Patreon.
While some fascist groups have fallen apart as a result, a newly leaked cache of communications shows how one group—Identity Evropa, whose members were involved in planning Unite the Right—is trying to rebrand itself as a respectable white nationalist organization in an attempt to mainstream its racist ideology.
More than 235,000 logs on the chat platform Discord show users claiming to be members of the group Identity Evropa openly discussing their desire to infiltrate and take over the GOP. The logs were collected by an anonymous group of antifascists and are being released today by Unicorn Riot, a decentralized non-profit media collective; Splinter was provided with an advance copy of the logs prior to their release. Discord is the preferred chatting platform for fascist groups, and its servers have been leaked on Unicorn Riot multiple times since 2017.
Splinter has reached out to Identity Evropa and the GOP for comment and will update if we hear back.
The logs, which exist on a server called “Nice Respectable People Group,” include conversations that took place between September 2017 and February 2019.
Identity Evropa is a far-right white nationalist group founded in 2016 by Iraq war veteran Nathan Damigo. The group and its founder have been named defendants in a civil rights lawsuit following the Charlottesville rally. In an effort to distance itself from the so-called “bad optics” of Unite the Right, Identity Evropa has changed its leadership and attempted to clean up its image. The group, now led by Patrick Casey (who has been a member of the group since its early days and previously used the name Reinhard Wolff), currently focuses its efforts on recruiting white college-aged men through campus flyering campaigns and banner drops, and specifically chooses to brand itself as a pro-white, “identitarian” organization. (Last year, the Anti-Defamation League released data showing that white supremacist propaganda campaigns on college campuses more than tripled in 2017. In just the fall semester, incidents of fascist propaganda were up 258 percent compared to the same period the prior year.)
Because of this, antifascists criticizedNBC’s Today when it lent its 4.8 million-viewer platform to Patrick Casey last fall, as various news outlets reported on the group’s intent to infiltrate and take over the GOP. During the segment, Peter Alexander commented on Casey’s “clean-cut” appearance. But no one should be fooled.
Despite their desire to appear more respectable, the more than 800 members on the Discord server often engage in predictably anti-Semitic and racist, homophobic, ableist, and misogynistic discussion. Members frequently use the word “sperg” as an insult, referring to people or behaviors they associate with Aspergers, and engage in frequent discussion about whiteness. One user, while discussing an uncomfortable run-in with a co-worker, said the lesson they learned was “don’t talk to black people.”
The logs also show server members discussing their plans to infiltrate College and Young Republicans groups, and local GOP offices, on at least 48 separate dates. One person last February invited members to help build a national College Republicans Discord server, which would be run by Identity Evropa members, who were told not to use “overtly alt right usernames of profile pics.” Some members said they were either current lawyers or plan to attend law schools in an effort to provide legal support to the group, while at least a dozen people said they are currently or formerly in the military. One member asked, “What are our long range goals? Other than taking over the GOP and spreading white identity? What is the end goal for IE?”
“Steven Bennet” appears to be the name Casey uses on the Identity Evropa Discord server. In a message to members in November 2017, Bennet said: “I am honored to announce that I, Patrick Casey (otherwise known as Reinhard Wolff), have accepted the position of Chief Executive Officer of Identity Evropa.”
Identity Evropa’s leader discussed plans to shift the country further right through infiltrating U.S. institutions as early as October 2017, just months after Unite the Right, the Discord logs show.
In an announcement message that month, “Bennet” encouraged members to get involved in local politics. “Today I decided to get involved with my county’s Republican party,” he said, adding, “The GOP is essentially the White man’s party at this point (it gets Whiter every election cycle), so it makes far more sense for us to subvert it than to create our own party…if you’re unable to do activism for various reasons, I’d like to encourage you to join your local Republican party. Present as a Trump supporter/nationalist. No need to broadcast your radical views.”
The Republican Party hasn’t exactly made itself hostile to white supremacists. President Trump has repeatedly presented himself as an ally to white nationalist organizing. Speaking about the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Trump said there were “very fine people on both sides.” More than a year later, during a speech in Texas last October, the president referred to himself as a “nationalist,” terminology that, in recent years, has been connected to the upsurge in white supremacist organizing under his administration. Just last week, CPAC Chairman Matt Schlapp embraced the concept of nationalism in a Fox News appearance, in which he said “there’s nothing wrong with” it. (Some white nationalists were turned away from the 2019 CPAC conference nonetheless.)
While some fascists aren’t quite as enthused by Trump as they once were, they see him as a catalyst for their growing movements. In one conversation from February 2019, a member of the server said that while they weren’t happy with Trump’s “inaction,” specifically in the context of his proposed border wall, “He’s sparked a (peaceful) revolution across the white world.”
Members in various other conversations praised Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and joked that Iowa Rep. Steve King is the “head of [the] White Birthrate Taskforce.” One person referred to King in November as “the closest thing we have to /ourguy/ in govt right now.”
The logs also show members being encouraged to infiltrate college groups to “convert” their conservative members, as they say. One member from Delaware said they were an “officer” of their college GOP group, an elected leadership position within the organization, and that they were making rules for their chapter “based on the IE guidelines.” In an earlier conversation, the same person said: “It’s easy to infiltrate low level GOP stuff if you just show up.”
White nationalists have been emboldened under Trump to run campaigns for public office. At least eight white nationalists ran for state and federal office last year.
One person involved with both IE and College Republicans had relative success making his way through the ranks of his county GOP—though he was promptly ejected.
Last summer, James Allsup, a white nationalist YouTuber who was filmed marching with Identity Evropa at Unite the Right, was elected a precinct committee officer in the Whitman County Republican Party in Washington after running unopposed. Allsup started as the head of the Washington State University College Republicans, where he helped build a “Trump Wall” on campus, but was later ousted over his involvement at Unite the Right. The 22-year-old was removed from his elected position earlier this year.
Nonetheless, Allsup set a precedent for other members of IE. As one member of the Discord server said in an October 2018 conversation: “Once I graduate I plan to infiltrate my local GOP Allsup style.”
The logs also show at least a dozen users who, from their conversations, appear to have either been involved in or have expressed interest in enlisting in the military. Members of the server are aware they might face consequences for their involvement in a hate group, as a member warned in October 2018: “if you’re in the military or join up keep IE close to the chest.”
In 2017, Splinter wrote about the military’s white nationalism problem after a confidential online survey of more than 1,000 active-duty troops conducted by Army Times found that one in four respondents had witnessed instances of white nationalism among their own ranks. (The military changed its recruiting standards in 2006 following a shortage of recruits willing to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan, making it easier for far-right racists to enlist, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.)
While server members in the logs appear to be tied to various branches of the military, including the Marines and the Navy, one member said in November that they were considering enlisting in the Air Force following the group’s national conference. “I’m thinking I am going to try and enlist after the National Conference is over so I can make it and then get into basic training,” the member said.
Members cited Trump’s fearmongering over a fake national immigration crisis as motivation to enlist in or return to the military. “I would consider re-enlisting to go guard the boarder [sic],” one member, also a veteran, said in October.
One member said last fall that they were looking into applying for a position with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), while members in other conversations bragged about reporting undocumented people to the rogue agency.
In another conversation about Army recruitment and gaming in January 2019, one person suggested pushing anti-immigrant rhetoric among gamers, writing: “push gamers to feel immigration is most important political issue, military recruits gamers, military is on /our side/.”
The overlap between far-right organizing online and gaming has been well-documented, particularly in connection with the Gamergate movement.
One of Identity Evropa’s members said that they plan to go to law school in the fall, as the group aims to build up another line of defense with allies in the legal system. “Trying to uphold the obligation,” the member said. Another added: “Lawyers are a good thing to recruit.”
What the IE logs show—a far-right, white nationalist group talking openly about its attempts to infiltrate one of the two major political parties in the United States—should be shocking. But this is America, and the Republican Party, in 2019. The GOP is the party of Steve King and Donald Trump. In many ways, Identity Evropa is kicking at an open door. The real question is not whether the far-right will continue to try and make the GOP their new home. Of course they will. The question is whether the GOP will stop seeming like such an inviting place for them to go.
Update, 6:14 p.m.: A GOP official, in response to a request for comment, pointed Splinter to a Republican National Committee resolution condemning racism and white supremacy, as well as RNC chair Ronna Romney McDaniel’s criticism of white supremacists in past TV interviews and online.
When Georgia police arrested Thomas Cheung, a well-known Twitch streamer and World of Warcraft community figure, as part of a child sex sting two weeks ago, a common reaction among his friends, fans, and business associates was shock.
If you were intimately involved in the massively multiplayer online role-playing game’s community, there’s a good chance you’d heard of, and maybe even crossed paths with, Cheung at some point. At 32, his name was well-known enough across online gaming bastions including Twitch, YouTube, BlizzCon, gaming-related charity events, and the gaming studio Hi-Rez, where he worked. Those who met him at events or chatted with him online said that Cheung sometimes seemed a little too flirty or sexually aggressive, but nobody had any reason to think that he would be sending explicitly sexual messages to a law enforcement official posing as a 14-year-old girl, asking her to meet up with him for condomless sex. But that’s what police said happened over Super Bowl weekend, after Cheung was among 21 men caught in a sting operation in suburban Atlanta, Georgia.
“I was disgusted and instantly overwhelmed,” said Elke Hinze, a web developer who worked with Cheung on a website unofficially related to BlizzCon, Blizzard’s yearly convention. “I think the people who know him feel the same way I do.” Fans who knew him online said that while Cheung did have a penchant for flirting in their direct messages, they saw it as “innocuous.”
Three of Cheung’s close friends, who asked to remain anonymous, said that news of Cheung’s arrest brought them to tears, in part out of astonishment. Others who knew Cheung, though, had a different reaction. One former Blizzard employee said that they first felt “shock” and “disgust” that soon gave way to a different feeling: “Admitting that I wasn’t surprised.”
That former employee said they’d had a “gut feeling” that this guy was bad news—a feeling that six people Kotaku interviewed shared, but didn’t make widely known.
Four of those people said that they believed that Cheung had been using his position of power in the Warcraft community to cross boundaries with women for years. Those sources, all of whom were of age, said they had been involved in uncomfortable interactions with Cheung in the past, ranging from unwelcome flirtatious solicitations in their DMs to an alleged assault in a BlizzCon hotel room.
Cheung is not the only gaming personality to be accused of attempting inappropriate—and potentially illegal—interactions with young women or minors that he met online. There are no statistics describing how prevalent this predatory behavior is between Twitch streamers and fans, and Kotaku’s interviews with law enforcement focused on predation suggest that it is not a common occurrence. However, as the internet has changed with the addition of social media, influencer culture, YouTube, Twitch and a multibillion-dollar online gaming industry, so has the nature of online predation.
If you grew up in the ‘80s or later, you were probably subjected to a lecture about online safety. Perhaps you learned that the charming-sounding person in your Pokémon chat room might turn out to be a creep, or worse, a creep 30 years your senior. Perhaps your parents asserted that even just telling him your first name was essentially inviting him to track you down and climb into your bedroom window. Today’s advice for younger people online hasn’t changed much, describing an outdated concept of the internet. Guides on avoiding sexual predators tell kids to avoid “placing strangers on buddy lists,” as if AOL Instant Messenger was still around, and avoid “visiting X-rated sites.” The Justice Department even tells kids “no chatting with strangers,” which an FBI agent focused on child predation told Kotaku is still good advice.
But on today’s internet, all of our apps and social media are actively persuading us to chat with strangers. In 2019, it’s commonplace to meet similarly-minded people on Facebook meme pages, sexual partners over Tinder, or gamers who complain about Overwatch as much as you do on Twitter. It’s more natural to talk to strangers online than it is to say “hello” to the person in line with you at the coffee shop. For better or worse, the physical and the digital have collapsed, and riding this wave is Twitch, an interactive platform where charismatic young people livestream video games for large audiences of fans, who may engage the streamer live in chat.
The most popular Twitch streamers, like Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, who has 13.3 million followers interested in watching him play Fortnite on Twitch, are mobbed by fans whenever they appear in-person at conventions. More commonplace are streamers with 20,000 or so followers, whose tightrope walk between “distant star” and “relatable gamer” draws in smaller but no less passionate audiences who feel they know, and can trust, the objects of their fandom. Microcultures around these microcelebrity streamers collect in tidepools on other interactive apps and social media, like the gaming chat app Discord and subreddits, where the streamer and their fans may engage both in public and in private. There are over 200 million people on Discord, and every day, 15 million unique visitors visit Twitch and its 2.2 million streamers.
In 2017, Kotaku reported on what happens when streamers’ fans decide that the person on the other end of the wifi connection is their friend, not their celebrity crush. It doesn’t end well. Katharine Hodgdon, who holds a doctorate from Texas A&M University and studies streamers, said that fans’ approach to celebrities prior to Twitch is a facet of “parasocial interaction,” or “when a person … develops a one-sided relationship with a media persona.” That’s existed for celebrities since there were celebrities. The difference today is that celebrity is more accessible, and along with that, fans have many more opportunities to connect with their idols, in Twitch chat or Discord messages, or on Snapchat or Instagram. The sheer numbers involved means that the relationships generally stay heavily lopsided, though—even if the streamer wanted to be friends with all 20,000 of their followers, it would be impossible. Fans tend to think they’re closer to the streamer than vice-versa.
And yet sometimes, fans do find that their celebrity crush—or somebody well-connected and powerful in the gaming world—seems to want to have a closer relationship with them. When that happens, it can be hard to see the red flags.
Thomas Cheung, a suburban Atlantan and avid gamer who wore his purple-dyed hair flipped up, drew his notoriety in the World of Warcraft community from his video guides on how to earn in-game gold. He then began working on a site that paired up buyers and sellers of BlizzCon tickets. From there, he wiggled into influencer circles, sources close to Cheung said.
By early 2018, Cheung had 20,000 followers on Twitch and had snagged himself a job at Hi-Rez Studios, the Atlanta-based game company that makes the online games Smite and Paladins. Cheung was a high-level WoW player and a consistent presence at the annual BlizzCon event, where, according former Blizzard employees, he aggressively networked with Blizzard developers, high-level community figures, and fans at parties and afterparties.
“My first thought was that he was very focused on his brand,” a former Blizzard employee said of Cheung. “He was energetic, always wanted to be networking. He had a thing for being around well-known personalities both in and out of Blizzard.”
“He was definitely super flirty and went out of his way to introduce himself to women,” said another ex-employee. “I noticed that the kind of women he did flirt with were women nobody knew. They weren’t community figures. They were younger and potentially less included to call out his bullshit.”
“Jane” is a World of Warcraft player who asked that we not use her real name. She first heard of Cheung when he was raising money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in 2012. Cheung was a well-known advocate for children’s hospitals, and has toured several in the Georgia area to deliver gifts to children.
“I felt it was noble and had tweeted the absolute hell out of it to get more people to contribute,” Jane told me over Discord messages. Cheung then sent Jane a direct message on Twitter to thank her for her support. “The second thing he said to me was asking if he could ‘borrow my boobies’ to help him get more viewers to get more donations,” Jane said.
Jane said she was used to hearing things like this, and laughed it off even though it made her a little uncomfortable. As Jane and Cheung continued chatting, he would occasionally say sexual or flirty things to her. Jane found that brushing the comments aside, ignoring them, or attempting to redirect the conversation didn’t get him to stop. Jane told Cheung she had a boyfriend, but he still asked her for what he referred to as “sexy tease pics.”
“He would do everything he possibly could to try and sexualize and take advantage of as many of us as he could,” Jane said, after seeing several women coming forward with similar stories following Cheung’s arrest. “I think a lot of us felt it would be pointless to say anything because he had the followers and the partnership and the sponsors and the position.”
Jane was one of five women who, either in interviews with Kotaku or on Twitter, described Cheung asking for sexy pictures or aggressively flirting with them in direct messages. Two, who did not respond to Kotaku’s requests for comment, wrote in tweets that they were underage when Cheung hit on them.
“I’ve seen so many of my friends speak up on social media about the things he had done to them,” a cosplayer in the WoW community who knew Cheung said. “They all thought they were alone and were too scared to speak up because of his position in the community.” That cosplayer says that, for the past three or four BlizzCons, Cheung “would always ask if I had a hotel room and then mention that he had a second bed in his room. I always took it as awkward flirting until one year he was being extremely pushy about me going to his hotel. He even tried to bribe me with food, items, promises, and whatever else would get my attention.”
Last year’s BlizzCon was when “Drav,” who also asked that we not use her real name, said that Cheung made unwanted physical sexual advances on her. She had met him around the same time as Jane, also thanks to Warcraft, where she was hosting an in-game charity event. Cheung reached out, offering to stream her event, and the two started speaking frequently over the years that followed.
As they became closer, Drav said, she started to get the impression that Cheung was preoccupied by women, and the idea that women did not like him. She describes him as “obsessive.” He’d send her videos and images of other women, and make comments about their breasts or other parts of their body. He’d rant to her for hours on end analyzing another woman’s messages, Twitter posts, or behavior. Cheung was “hyper-fixated on the idea that he was never going to get a girlfriend and would always be alone,” Drav said. Three other sources close to Cheung agreed with this assessment.
Leading up to BlizzCon, Drav said, Cheung started asking for information about her sexual preferences. She answered his questions at first, but started deflecting them when they started to sound “creepy.” She hoped he’d get the hint. The two met in-person for the first time in a group of friends at BlizzCon. Late at night on the last day of the show, they were chatting online, Cheung in his hotel room and Drav in her AirBnB, when Cheung asked her to “come over and gossip.” She was having a bad day and needed to vent, so it was a welcome invitation. She hopped in a Lyft to his hotel. In his room, they chatted for a while until he asked if she wanted to watch a movie. When Drav said she had to go back to her AirBnB to take her medication, she said, Cheung asked her to sleep in his hotel room.
“I thought, ‘Oh, fuck,’” Drav said. Cheung ordered her a Lyft that would take her back to her AirBnB for her meds, and then bring her back to his room. “I sent out SOS messages on my way back, but nobody was really awake,” she said of a couple innocuous feelers she put out to friends to see whether anyone was around. She said that as she tried to sleep in Cheung’s room, he made physical advances on her that she consistently deflected. “I tried to get up several times,” she said. “He’d grab my arm.” After what she said was an hour of fending off advances, someone she knew responded to her messages. She told Cheung she had to leave for an emergency, and hustled out the door.
Drav said she deleted her entire message history with Cheung after this interaction. In addition to taking a huge emotional toll on her, she said the incident prevented her from pursuing her goals in the gaming industry. “I was going to apply for an internship with Blizzard this year and I felt like I couldn’t,” she said. “He did a lot of charity work and my whole thing is charity work. There was a philanthropy thing open. I was so scared of running across him.”
“Instead of putting in the internship application, I checked myself into the mental health ward.”
Months later, on January 30th, Cheung would be charged with a felony—using a computer service to seduce, solicit, lure or entice a child to commit an illegal act—after communicating with a law enforcement officer posing as a 14-year-old over the messaging app Whisper. According to a warrant obtained by Kotaku, the officer told Cheung that she was 14. They planned to meet up in suburban Georgia, near where Cheung lives. According to the warrant, Cheung told the undercover officer “that he wanted to show her some things, and stated that he does not like to use condoms, and advised that he would pull out.” Hi-Rez and Cheung’s sponsor SteelSeries dropped him after the news broke earlier this month. Cheung is now out on bail, awaiting trial, and according to the local district attorney’s office, the case remains open and under investigation with no specific timeline for completion. (Cheung did not respond to Kotaku’s requests for comment on this story.)
There have been abuses of power so long as there has been power, and as apps like Twitch give more people opportunities to amass power, that means the way abuse looks is changing. Cheung didn’t have a cult of personality; he had a platform spread across several channels including Twitch, Discord, Twitter and World of Warcraft sites. His relevance, and the relationships built on it in part, were fragmented across the online world. That’s what made policing it, or even noticing commonalities, so difficult. Yet sometimes, even when behavior—whether it’s plainly illegal or part of a pattern of creepiness—is reported to the relevant parties, there are few if any repercussions.
“Caroline” was 17 when she first interacted with the English World of Warcraft streamer MethodJosh, who does not make his last name public. At 23 years old, he has 122,000 Twitch followers and might best be described as an “edgelord,” or a person who talks about taboo or nihilistic topics, often for attention. Josh’s most popular Twitch clips include one in which he argues how strange it is that Nazis get girlfriends but he cannot. There’s another in which, referencing his Tinder profile, he opens a document titled “What do women like?” with the bullet point “Men that aren’t me.” Yet another, titled “sister meme,” sees Josh explain that, in response to male friends joking that they want to sleep with his sister, he says, “If you can’t beat them, join them, sort of. The next time somebody came up to me and was like, ‘Josh, I want to fuck your sister,’ I just said, ‘Me, too.’”
Josh would share disturbing personal photos with his fans. Once, he passed around a semi-nude picture of his ex-girlfriend. Another time, he showed them a photo of a fan of his tied up with rope in a forest. (The fan, reached via Discord, said it was a “joke.”)
Caroline, who follows a lot of World of Warcraft YouTubers, stumbled upon a couple of Josh’s videos late in 2018 and thought his persona was funny. After chatting for a little, they added each other on Discord, then on, Snapchat. When Josh found out Caroline’s age, he at first said he didn’t talk to underage girls, but they kept talking. (Caroline is one of three fans who say Josh has described girls around 15 and 16 as the perfect age.) Eventually, she said, he told her that he liked that she was young. Caroline said that, several times, Josh asked to sleep with her.
“I just thought it was cool that he was talking to me out of all the people he could talk to,” Caroline explained over a Discord voice call. “I think that’s the case with a lot of underage people. It’s the power dynamic they have. I guess my mindset was wanting to please this person and see where it goes.”
Svetlana, another fan of MethodJosh’s, said that she recently joined the fandom after seeing some of his videos and thinking, This is a guy who can make fun of himself. She blew off what she describes as the “questionable” aspects of his persona, thinking it was just “memes.” The first thing that happened when she entered his Discord, she says, was Josh asking her whether she was really a girl, what her age was, her height, her relationship status.
Svetlana says she “didn’t play along,” and, as time went on, noticed people in his Discord referring to girls as “whores” and “thots.” In one message, Josh wrote of a woman, “hold her head under the water, pick a hole, try to finish before she stops moving,” which a screenshot provided to Kotaku corroborated. Other women who enter the Discord, Svetlana said, were also immediately hit on, or referred to using similarly hateful speech by Josh or his fanbase. (After word got out about this story, the Discord was scrubbed of many of its messages.)
Over time, the girls in Josh’s Discord who had questions about whether his edgelord personality was a put-on or really, truly problematic began comparing notes. Evelyn was another fan of Josh’s who had a flirty relationship with him, yet became fed up with his behavior. “Josh has a tendency to make the girls dislike each other for fighting for his attention,” Evelyn told me. That was exacerbated by his tendency to ask girls to do attention-grabbing stunts to entertain his fanbase, like broadcasting audio of them pretending they’re obsessed with him, or starring in dramatic scenes.
“He lures girls in for his sexual needs or to create content and he doesn’t care how their feelings get hurt in the process,” speculated Svetlana, who was a part of his Discord for several months. “He acts like he is an incel and he can’t get girls and messes up every opportunity with a girl. He gets views and everything from this. People are entertained maybe because guys can relate to struggling with girls.”
In one series of messages that was shown to Kotaku, Josh says of another man to whom a girl he knew was attracted, “I AM / LITERALLY BETTER THAN HIM / AHFIOASFHAPISHF / KILL YOURSELF/ DUMB WHORE . . . i am / internet famous / FUIKC.”
Disappointed members of Josh’s community, including an individual Kotaku interviewed, emailed his management company, Method, writing that Josh “has been using girls—an underage one at that—for his manipulative form of entertainment. He constantly harasses women in his Discord to date him, regardless whether they have a significant other or not. He also likes to tell everyone he prefers 16 year olds or younger. Some take this at a glance, thinking it is just satire…”
Method emailed back a statement in response, telling the women that they would need to submit a police report before it would take any action. “Like you, all of us at Method take the welfare of minors seriously, including their safety on the internet. If you feel you have evidence that anybody, inside or outside of Method, has been behaving in a predatory of illegal manner we strongly encourage you to contact the police and make a report, so that a thorough—and proper—investigation can occur,” the email read. Method’s email continued on to say that it would serve “no purpose” to bring this matter to social media “where images can be doctored and recollections of the truth twisted.”
MethodJosh did not respond to Kotaku’s request for comment. The same Method representative who sent the email did respond to Kotaku. “I stand by my reply that the most important step the accuser and/or victim could take would be to immediately contact the police if their welfare or the welfare of anyone, especially a minor, is in jeopardy,” they wrote in part, saying that the email from the fans was “a second hand account of Josh’s alleged behavior from an anonymous source” and contained no supporting evidence. (The original email to Method had said that the fan in question was not comfortable sharing the evidence with Method “unless necessary.”) “I can confirm we’ve spoken to Josh about the email you have referenced from Jane Doe, as well as the contact from you today regarding this article, but we have no plans at this time to publicly comment on personnel decisions within the organization,” the email continued.
Fear and the desire to be accepted by somebody who is widely respected might prevent fans from speaking out against their favorite gaming celebrity’s inappropriate behavior. On the other hand, the small brand empires that these gamers build up run the risk of collapsing once call-outs become public. Yet because many of the platforms that bolster these personalities’ fame are hands-off about moderating, sometimes, the alleged bad actors return even after they’ve been disgraced publicly.
In 2016, VICE Motherboard reported that big-time Minecraft personalities were grooming and preying on underage fans. The report focused on Marcus “LionMaker” Wilton, whose 600,000 YouTube subscribers included countless underage fans, several of whom he reportedly befriended. In 2015, LionMaker allegedly asked a 12-year-old to send him nude photos through Twitter direct messages. He later denied doing this. That same night, LionMaker reportedly offered $500 to a 16-year-old male fan in exchange for nude images, which he also denied. At one point, LionMaker apparently tweeted out lewd images of a girl who was reportedly 16 years old with whom he said he had a sexual relationship. Last month, YouTube news channel DramaAlert broke the story that LionMaker had returned to streaming on the platform Mixer. In an emailed response to Kotaku, a representative of LionMaker said that “LionMaker never preyed on anyone,” and described some allegations against him as “false,” without detailing which.
LionMaker wasn’t the only one in the Minecraft community to be accused of this. In 2015, Aaron “Yamimash” Ash, who was 26 and had 1.3 million YouTube subscribers, was accused of sending lewd messages and images to a 14-year-old fan. (Later, in a video, he admitted to “flirting” with her, denied that he had sent “naked pictures,” and said that she was being “manipulative.”) He did not respond to Kotaku’s request for comment. In 2016, Kotaku reported that Minecraft YouTuber Starlit “JinBop” Zhao was arrested on his way to meet up with a 15-year-old fan. In 2017, he was sentenced to eight years in prison.
YouTube largely replicates the traditional model for celebrities and fans—one side offers their talents while the other passively consumes—yet in the last few years since Twitch has grown, interactivity has factored more into these relationships. “Anna,” a 16-year-old fan of Overwatch League star Jonathan “DreamKazper” Sanchez who wishes to remain anonymous, said she was shocked last year when she saw that Sanchez, 21, had followed her back on Twitter. Sanchez was just a distant star she watched on Twitch, where the Overwatch League was broadcast, and now he was talking to her directly and personally.
In direct messages, Sanchez continually flattered her with compliments that, because of the power differential, were difficult for her to turn down, she toldKotaku at that time. Several times, as they became closer and more flirtatious, they discussed meeting up. At one point, Sanchez purchased a ticket for Anna to come visit him in California. At the same time, Sanchez was speaking to “Penelope,” a 15-year-old fan who wrote in a public statement that she, too, was “flattered” when he followed her back on Twitter and also formed a flirtatious relationship with the esports pro. Both girls reportedly sent Sanchez nude pictures. Both said that Sanchez knew how old they were. (He did not reply to Kotaku’s requests for comment at that time.) Although he was immediately suspended from the Overwatch League, YouTuber KingMykl reported that Sanchez returned to play Overwatch just a few months later.
There is no evidence that predation is more widespread among the gaming community than it is anywhere else, say law enforcement officials that Kotaku spoke to.
“It’s not just gaming. It’s apps all across the board, anything that accesses the internet,” said Kevin Kaufman, a lieutenant in the FBI who has supervised the bureau’s Violent Crimes Against Children task force in central Florida. Kaufman said that any conversations between minors and strangers online runs the risk of danger. “Any time there’s a platform giving an adult the opportunity to engage or communicate with a teenager or a kid, the adult is the one with the upper hand.”
New Jersey State Police lieutenant John Pizzuro, commander of the state’s Internet Crimes Against Children task force, says that he hasn’t seen many reports referencing Twitch, although about 10 of the 300 reports he saw in 2018 referenced Discord. “We’ve seen a lot of cases where predators go into Discord to groom children,” he told me over the phone last week, although he said it’s less of a specific issue with the service and “more of a societal issue.”
Pizzuro noted that, as opposed to 10 years ago, chat apps are available at any time, anywhere—you don’t have to go home and wait for a dial-up connection to go through. On top of that, he said, younger generations are conditioned by social media to act in more extreme ways to stand out online on both sides of the streamer-fan relationship, which can lead them into boundary-pushing behavior.
“Our arrests in the last three years went from 143 to 300 just in child exploitation,” he said. “You have platforms that don’t monitor content … If you knew you’d be monitored in a room, your behavior would be completely different as opposed to going into a room knowing no one’s looking at it unless someone reports you.”
Ultimately, says Katharine Hodgdon, the Texas A&M researcher these companies might have an “ethical” obligation to do something, but not a “legal” one.
In a blog post published earlier this week, Discord said that its trust and safety team reviews over 6,000 reports every week. “Discord treats streamers and gaming personalities no differently from any other user, and any inappropriate or predatory conduct is absolutely forbidden,” Discord said in an emailed statement to Kotaku. The company will “investigate any and all reports of any user” and report users to the National Center For Missing and Exploited Children and to law enforcement “as appropriate,” it said.
It’s always been the case that power-hungry people seek power, and so changes in online technology aren’t necessarily changing what kind of person becomes a celebrity. And there has never been a thorough vetting process for celebrity. What modern platforms’ emphasis on accessibility and interactivity is changing is the sheer number of celebrities who exist and how available they are to their fans. If they have bad intentions, or are even a little unhinged, they know how you contact you. In online games, where communities are often built off a mutual desire to be understood by others outside the mainstream, victims may be more vulnerable to the glow of celebrity and, because of the platforms gamers gravitate toward, more online.
“When you’re in these communities that have thousands and thousands of members and there are people leading these communities—and internet communities appeal to younger people—they worship these people because they have power in the social dynamic,” said one former Blizzard employee who knew Thomas Cheung. “They’re taking advantage of people who want to feel included.”