Highland Park Shooting Suspect’s “Bobby” E. Crimo III Discord Server Raises App Moderation Questions

The Highland Park shooting suspect had dedicated chat rooms on popular social messaging platform Discord and frequented others who trafficked in violent content despite rules meant to limit such material.

This is the second time this year that Discord has emerged as an app used by a suspect in a mass shooting. The A man accused of killing 10 people at a Buffalo, New York, supermarket in May used the same app to document his plans for the shooting.

Use of the app by such suspects raises questions about the company’s moderation practices and the activity taking place on the millions of active servers he maintains. An expert said the platform could be a vehicle for radicalization.

“Discord reserves the right to review and remove any material on the platform,” said Emerson Brooking, senior resident at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, a Washington-based think tank.

“But there must be a flag that gets Discord’s attention in the first place.”

Discord did not respond to requests for comment.

The “practical limit of moderation”

Discord, originally a favorite of gamers but now hugely popular in nearly every online community, allows users to create private chat rooms called “servers” that can host numerous chat rooms.

Robert “Bobby” E. Crimo III, the Highland Park suspect who was arrested hours after Monday’s shooting, has left a sprawling footprint online, including on Discord, YouTube, Twitter and other social platforms. Under his rap name “Awake”, Crimo posted music videos on his YouTube channel which included depictions of mass murder, while on its own Discord server, Crimo shared memes and nihilistic political commentary.

Crimo appears to be active on the Discord server since late January 2021, according to chat logs archived by unicorn riot, a nonprofit media organization that tracks the far right. Images that purported to be screenshots of his posts appeared to show the user complaining about “commies” – short for “communists” and commonly used by far-right extremists to refer to Democrats.

In a March post on a political board on its server, Crimo posted a photo of R. Budd Dwyer, a Pennsylvania politician who was shot and killed during a televised press conference in 1987, captioned “I wish politicians would still make speeches like this.”

Crimo also contributed to a message board discussing graphic depictions of murder, suicide, and death. His most recent message on the board last week showed a video of a beheading. His YouTube and Discord accounts were deleted on Monday evening.

Brooking said the Highland Park shooting highlights “the practical limit of moderation” on chat platforms like Discord.

“Crimo’s posts appear to have been too context-dependent to be flagged automatically and it’s unlikely that members of Crimo’s Discord server found them obnoxious enough to report,” he continued.

Brooking said he suspects some of Crimo’s posts may have violated Discord’s Community Ruleswhich prohibit the glorification of “violent events, perpetrators of violent acts, or similar behavior”, but “moderators should have seen them first”.

Discord’s role in the Buffalo shooting

Payton Gendron, the suspect in the Buffalo shooting, also appeared to be using Discord in the run-up to the attack on Tops supermarket. In a 180-page rant that senior law enforcement officials say they believe they wrote and posted online, Gendron referenced the Discord chat platform and a weapons and armor-centric community called ” flatland”.

On another Discord server, a user with the same username as the Twitch account that streamed the Buffalo attack created what appeared to be a to-do list related to the shooting.

A Discord representative said in a statement to NBC News at the time of the Buffalo shooting, “We send our deepest condolences to the victims and their families, and are doing everything we can to assist law enforcement in investigation.”

In the aftermath of the Buffalo shooting, Discord said it would commit to enhanced content moderation measures to prevent the dissemination of content related to the attack. The company also banned the suspect’s account, partnered with anti-terrorism groups and removed accounts that “created fake Discord chat logs to deceive law enforcement and media,” the company said.

Discord acts as “a way to get organized”

Brooking explained that Discord can be a “path of radicalization” for users, especially those who exploit far-right online communities.

“When we talk about people committing these acts of violence…it will be part of that bond,” Brooking said of Discord. “Many far-right communities are turning to Discord to organize.”

In 2017, the company bans some of the largest far-right Discord communities following a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia that killed one person and injured dozens – eliminating one of the movement’s most important means of communication.

But as social media platforms like YouTube, Twitch and Discord implement measures to remove and moderate content related to mass shootings, Brooking said that doesn’t necessarily erase extremists’ plans to coordinate public killings. .

“The future of terrorism is not Discord,” Brooking said, citing Discord’s decision to ban some prominent far-right communities after the murderous Charlottesville rally and other existing platforms with more secure communications.

Discord provides the “tools for anyone to build and run their own server,” he continued, but it “will not be an attractive platform for people and collaborators to plan to commit acts of violence because communications on Discord are not secure”. are subject to review.

“You can certainly exploit far-right communities on Discord — you know, toxic, racist, sometimes tinged with white supremacy,” he added. “But to really build a much brighter and more durable terrorist infrastructure, Telegram and traditional chat rooms are a better alternative.”

Lance B. Holton