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Intelligence document leak on Discord raises questions about gaming communities

Crystal Graham
teen online gaming
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A chat platform originally built for online gaming has become a mainstream platform for individual and community messaging, Discord is the subject of intense scrutiny after intelligence documents were leaked by a 21-year-old Massachusetts Air National Guard member in an invite-only chatroom on the platform.

A Virginia Tech professor says online gaming platforms have been identified as a security concern for more than a decade.

“The fact that Discord is primarily used for privacy groups and community conversations rather than public posts introduces security concerns because the privacy of its groups may give the false illusion that material shared in closed forums will stay in those closed forums,” said James Ivory, who researches social media and video game use related to military simulations and links to political extremism and intelligence risks.

“As we have seen in this case, what starts private may not stay private, but it may certainly be easy for people in closed online groups on Discord to have the false belief that what they share, will stay there,” Ivory said.

U.S. intelligence as well as other entities have long been active in these gaming communities.

“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 said.

Ivory said there is evidence that gaming communities focused around military simulation games are also places where political extremism may flourish.

“There are a lot of online gaming communities with a heavy focus on military technology and procedures, and privileged information will gain a lot of attention and credibility in such communities,” Ivory said. “As long as we have young people working in defense with access to classified intelligence information who are involved in these 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.”

Ivory’s research indicates there are a lot of young men – civilians and active duty – interested in military culture who are very active in gaming and in online communities where extreme views are shared.

“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,” said Ivory.

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.