Joe Tidy – the BBC’s first dedicated Cyber-security Correspondent reports on what could be ‘The Next Big Thing’ from Silicon Valley
Every few months a new social media platform emerges. Usually from Silicon Valley with the backing of hundreds of millions of dollars from venture capitalists who want to get in early on The Next Big Thing.
As a cyber reporter, it can be hard to keep up. Luckily most of these platforms never make it to the mainstream but Discord is definitely one that has made it into the higher echelons and should be taken seriously.
With 250m worldwide users it is now a major player and not only a huge place for gamers but, as the company said in the summer, a place for all interests.
Jason Citron, Discord June 2020:
“It turns out that, for a lot of you, Discord isn’t just about video games anymore… Today, many of you use Discord for day-to-day communication. You’re sharing thoughts about books, music, and art, creating servers to just be yourself and share moments with friends. Since we launched in 2015, Discord has grown to more than 100 million monthly active users. You spend 4 billion minutes in conversation daily across 6.7 million active servers. On a weekly basis, that’s 26 billion server conversation minutes across 13.5 million active servers.
The numbers are impressive and growing. This in spite of the fact that Discord is the most confusing and hard to use social networks I’ve ever had to grapple with. It’s basically a platform for highly controlled community chat rooms.
Anyone can start a community ‘server’ and invite friends or strangers to chat in text, or with voice or even video. If there’s something you’re interested in, from Harry Potter to cheesecake, there’s probably a community server you can join to chat away and share links to stories you’re interested in.
Like many social networks there is an entire ecosystem of jargon, acronyms, permission barriers and embarrassing pitfalls to fall into for the uninitiated which I am still learning about daily. Like the time I left my mic open to an entire channel of people for hours without even realising.
I’ve always found the best way to get to grips with new tech is to dive right in and I’ve done that as much as possible in the last year or so as stories, good and bad, have taken me to various discord communities for interviews and research.
My exclusive about the horrors taking place in Club Penguin was mostly built through chats and days of sleuthing on the various Club Penguin fan servers. Likewise Discord was a key part of the newsgathering on my story about Fortnite Hackers
However, recently I’ve decided to go a step further and have created my own Discord server. As far as I’ve seen this is a rare move for a reporter but I thought I’d give it a go as an experiment.
I’ve set it up with ‘channels’ like ‘#new-reports’ to bring my stories to a different audience and allow them to give me feedback (constructive I hope!) on ‘#stories-feedback’ channel.
What I’m most excited about though are the two channels ‘#news-tips’ and ‘#ask-me-anything’. Already I’ve had some really good ideas for stories come my way that I would never have known about and some of the questions from people on the server about my job have been really interesting to see what these young people are interested in.
There’s a drive for more transparency in journalism and behind the scenes storytelling can be a powerful vehicle.
That’s why I’ve been keen to not just put out my stories on the server in the same way I would do on Twitter but also give the readers a bit more info too. Like this post for example – not something I would really share on a more mature platform populated by the Twitterati but one I hope to do more of on Discord:
It’s very early days and the server only has a handful of subscribers right now but I’m hoping it will grow. There are some extremely helpful people I’ve found on the platform so far who have helped me sort it out and tidy it up (shout out to Sahij!).
We all know that reaching younger audiences is a massive challenge for modern journalists and I think Discord is shaping up to be a big opportunity.
TikTok or Snapchat are great and well worth using but I think that ‘doing news’ on platforms designed for entertainment videos or images has its limitations. The good thing about Discord is that, like Reddit, it’s geared towards sharing information in focused communities so I think now could be the time to jump onboard.