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In this blog, Jeff Fehmel, a Senior Tradecraft Specialist at Fivecast, explores the Gaming Platform Discord, discussing how it operates, the extremist threats on the site, and why it is important for intelligence investigations.  Jeff has over ten years of open-source intelligence and investigative experience. His primary expertise is in violent right-wing extremism and vetting.

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF GAMING PLATFORMS TO INTELLIGENCE

Across the ever-evolving social media landscape, gaming platforms in general and Discord in particular are among the niche platforms of increasing concern. While gaming platforms may have been overlooked in the past due to their seemingly innocuous intentions, their importance to intelligence analysts is growing quickly. In this blog, we delve into the characteristics of gaming platforms, analyzing why they can be a harbinger of extremism, child exploitation, drug trafficking, and other criminal activities.

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Discord is a communication platform that seamlessly integrates voice, video calls, and instant messaging. It has a staggering 350 million registered users and over 150 million active monthly users.

Discord fosters specific communities known as ‘servers.’ These servers host persistent chat rooms and channels, enabling private communication within the group. Often centered around specific video games, these servers can be expansive open forums.

Moreover, anyone can create servers for free, making it common for small groups of friends, coworkers, or family members to establish their own online communication hubs. Within these larger servers, specialized channels facilitate discussions or communication among specific server members. Additionally, users can engage in online calls without relying on their phones or other online platforms.

UNCOVERING COVERT AND EXTREMIST ACTIVITY ON DISCORD

Gaming chatrooms and forums are convenient gathering places for extremists, offering a cloak of anonymity and security. Within many gaming communities on Discord, extremist rhetoric often slips past self-regulation mechanisms, evading removal.

The format of Discord gives extremists an easy way to coordinate, reach out to potential recruits, and spread misinformation. This ‘secure’ communication function on such a popular platform means that any extremist groups seeking to grow their numbers but remain more or less unseen have a strong incentive to evangelize on Discord.

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DISCORD’S HIDDEN MARKETPLACE

Discord servers with private invites can easily serve as marketplaces for illicit substances or other criminal activity. As moderators can limit access to the server, there is considerable control in keeping only trusted individuals inside, while any attempts at surveillance are stymied.

Discord is also a place where stolen goods and data can be bought and sold. Online data like login credentials and stolen identities can easily be sold over Discord before law enforcement can act. After dark web markets like Silk Road are shut down by law enforcement, many black-market buyers and sellers moved to platforms like Discord. The low barrier to entry means that servers catering to specific illicit goods can be created without giving any personal information and new ones can be created faster than Discord and law enforcement can respond.

To navigate the many challenges on Discord, intelligence teams need to be aware of the risks lurking on the platform and have access to intelligence tools and tradecraft to uncover threats to the community. However, this is more complex than it first appears, with server moderators seeking proof of identity or like-mindedness to filter out potential outsiders and keep their activities within the server secure. This creates challenges for investigators hoping to discover criminal activity or identify extremist activity on the Discord platform. Intelligence teams require access to the advanced data collection and AI-enabled analysis capabilities of Fivecast ONYX, to filter through masses of data and uncover actionable insights critical to navigating the complexities of Discord.

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