The leaking of US intelligence documents which has exposed highly classified information about the war in Ukraine reportedly began on a gaming platform.
The documents that have left the Pentagon scrambling for answers were shared on a range of social media sites and are believed to have originated from a private group on Discord. Members claim they were never meant to be made public.
Jack Teixeira, a 21-year-old member of the US Air National Guard, was arrested over the leaks.
But what is Discord, who are its users and does it have links to the far-right?
Just another gaming app?
Discord started in 2015 as an online hangout for gamers and a social tool. It grew during the COVID pandemic as a forum for its mostly 18 to 24-year-old users to gossip or even help each other with homework.
Players can create or join “servers” both public and private, where people can meet and hang out, chatting via text, video, or voice.
Private “invite only” servers can also be created. Each server can be broken down into channels for specific topics.
More than 150 million people visit Discord every month, according to co-founder and chief executive Jason Citron.
The company hosts 21,000 servers – the vast majority of which are dedicated to gaming with others focused on topics like entertainment and music.
Who uses Discord?
Psychologist and director of the International Gaming Research Unit, Mark Griffiths, says Discord initially started with discussions about gaming strategy but has since evolved.
“Gamers, particularly young, male gamers might go online to find an audience that may actually listen to them. The people on these groups – their core identity is gaming – because of the amount of time they spend on it,” he said.
Discord is most popular with men aged 18-24.
Around 38% of its web users and nearly half of its Android app users are from Generation Z and they are roughly 75% male, according digital intelligence platform, Similarweb.
Who is Jack Teixeira?
What do the documents say and how did they get out?
It is a “completely anonymous” and “very male platform,” said human behaviour technologist and psychotherapist Catherine Knipps.
She said: “You easily can make up a random username and make a false identity. As humans, we’re always looking for connection.”
She adds that a sense of belonging is “so important” and “people will adopt new personalities online for the sake of fitting in with their communities”.
Who is the ‘OG’ and what’s Thug Shaker Central?
Some of the leaks are believed to have started on Discord.
Roughly two dozen users in a reportedly private chat group called Thug Shaker Central talked about their favourite guns and shared memes and jokes – some of which were racist. The group also discussed wars including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Teixeira, who went by the handle, OG, reportedly drew admiration from the group’s mostly young members. He was identified by the New York Times as the leading figure in the chat group.
‘Documents were never meant to leave the group’
In interviews with the paper, members of the group said it started out as a place where young men would gather to talk about their love of guns and play war-themed video games.
They claimed the secret documents they discussed were meant to be purely informative and were never meant to leave the group.
They also said they saw Teixeira as the group’s unofficial leader, claiming he wanted to teach younger members about the realities of war.
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But the documents gained more attention after one of the members posted them on a public forum.
In a company statement, Discord said it is cooperating with law enforcement and “as this remains an active investigation, we cannot provide further comment at this time”.
How were the documents leaked and where did they go?
According to the New York Times, Teixeira began posting original documents from October to March, with a member of the group claiming the airman posted around 350 documents.
The paper reports that on 2 March, a member of the private group known as “Lucca” was involved in a conversation about the Ukraine war in a public Discord group where he published several dozen documents.
On 5 April, according to investigative website Bellingcat, the documents started circulating through pro-Russian Telegram channels and on 4chan.
Connection with the far-right?
This is not the first time Discord has been embroiled in controversy.
In 2017, white supremacists used the platform to plan the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville where a counter protester was killed.
Following the rally, Discord closed a number of accounts associated with the events in Charlottesville and said it would “continue to take action” against white supremacy and all forms of hate.
Then in May 2022, a white teenager posted racist memes and recorded his thoughts on Discord before shooting 10 people dead at a grocery store in Buffalo.
The details, kept on a private group, included months of racist, anti-semitic entries along with step-by-step descriptions of the teenager’s assault plans. Discord said 15 users would have had access to entries before the attack. There was no evidence anyone saw them before then.
The platform said it removed the details and banned the teeanger’s account as soon as it became aware of them. The company said it also took steps to prevent content related to the attack from spreading.