Discord, a chat platform originally designed for online gaming, has come under scrutiny following the leak of intelligence documents by an alleged member of the military. According to James Ivory, a Virginia Tech professor who studies social media and video game use in military simulations, Discord has become a mainstream platform for individual and community messaging, raising concerns about privacy and security.
Ivory explains that the fact that Discord is primarily used for private conversations introduces security concerns because it may give the false illusion that material shared in closed forums will stay within those closed forums. This underscores the difficulty of monitoring online activities through spaces like this. He believes that what starts private may not stay private, but it may be easy for people in closed online groups on Discord to have the false belief that what they share will stay there.
The intelligence community has identified online gaming platforms as a security concern for more than a decade, so U.S. intelligence as well as other entities have long been active in these communities. Ivory believes that intelligence activity, by actors with both good and bad intent regarding global safety and security, will no doubt continue and intensify in the private groups of Discord as well as other online communities.
Ivory’s research in this field indicates that gaming communities focused around military simulation games are often environments where political extremism flourishes, and privileged information will gain a lot of attention and credibility in such communities. As long as young people working in defense with access to classified intelligence information are involved in small online communities and private discussion groups, the temptation will be there to share information to gain clout, even though the consequences for both them and the people affected by the leaks are extremely serious.
According to Ivory, there are many young men – civilians and active duty – interested in military culture who are very active in gaming and online communities where extreme views are shared. While new details surrounding the leak are still emerging, Ivory believes that this leak is much broader in scope, but we certainly have a precedent of online groups related to military simulation being places where extreme views and sensitive documents are shared—and they spread from there.