jugendschutz.net-ReportAnti-democratic propaganda on Discord endangers young people

The Discord service is particularly popular in the gaming sector. It offers a wide range of communication options via voice or text chat, but also in livestreams or dedicated chat rooms (called "servers"). Extremists have also discovered Discord as a simple and versatile platform for their own communication. They use it to spread their anti-democratic and anti-people messages. And they use Discord to initiate direct contact and influence young users individually. In a new report, jugendschutz.net has summarized how extremists use Discord and what opportunities Discord offers them.

The report was prompted by numerous media reports on extremist activities in which Discord played a role. For example, the right-wing extremist network 'Reconquista Germanica' was organized via Discord. In light of such incidents and due to its own monitoring work, jugendschutz.net conducted a search on Discord in fall 2023. After screening around 50 topic-specific servers, 14 were selected for closer examination. The study examined how children and young people can potentially come into contact with extremist ideas there and what structural opportunities Discord opens up for extremist contact initiation.

In the investigation, jugendschutz.net found evidence of attempts to establish contact for potentially radicalizing purposes on publicly accessible Discord servers. It is almost impossible to determine whether these attempts were successful, as the communication is usually very quickly shifted to private channels. This phenomenon is also known from cybergrooming (contacting children in preparation for sexual abuse). This is why jugendschutz.net also refers to it as 'extremist cybergrooming'. According to the report, the connecting aspects between these two topics are "[...] those of flattery or seduction, the exploitation of inexperience, the creation of emotional dependency or the conveyance of feelings of guilt and shame (for example towards like-minded people or the extremist reference group)."

jugendschutz.net points out that Discord does have precautionary measures such as security settings and reporting options. However, since the majority of problematic interactions take place in closed communication spaces, jugendschutz.net believes that children and young people must be comprehensively protected against attempts to exert anti-democratic and anti-human influence.

Parents and educators can point out these signs and mechanisms of extremist manipulation:

  • Adult extremists pretend to be their peers online in order to create the social closeness typical of their age.
  • Extremists pretend to have common, harmless interests such as online games to make it easier to establish contact and relationships.
  • Young users should be particularly vigilant when attempts are made to deepen relationships across multiple social media services.
  • Users should be cautious if they are asked to engage in certain activities, such as consuming and sharing images, videos or texts with inappropriate content.
  • Children and young people should be encouraged to talk to their parents or teachers about questionable contacts or to report the persons in question to the service provider.

In the full report, you will find a lot more information and examples of how extremists use Discord to spread their misanthropic ideologies. Among other things, aspects such as inadequate moderation on private Discord servers and the dissemination of derogatory content under the pretext of "black humor" are highlighted. The report is available for free download at jugendschutz.net.

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