Discord’s team is aware that the platform has an alt-right problem.
Centipede Central, one of the more notorious Discord servers, is known for its racist, sexist, anti-Semitic and homophobic messages that flood its various chatrooms. More than 23,000 messages are sent by more than 4,000 users on a daily basis.
In the time before Centipede Central became the subject of news articles and feature pieces from various organizations, including Buzzfeed and Motherboard, the discourse was worse. Centipede Central became the main Discord channel for “The_Donald” subreddit, one of the biggest alt-right subreddits that came under attack for its hateful content. Diving into the server now, it seems clear that the members of Centipede Central are aware they’re being watched, offering constant reminders to other members not to say anything that a journalist, investigator or Discord administrator could screenshot for future evidence.
Still, Centipede Central has technically never broken Discord’s terms of service or community guidelines. The server, which two of its moderators told Polygon in an interview was designed for satirical purposes, has continued to operate despite being watched by Discord administrators. Until yesterday, Centipede Central members had no reason to believe the server was going to be shut down.
That’s changed. Following a violent rally organized by white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia, Discord released a statement condemning hateful content on its servers. The company made it clear that people who practiced that ideology were not welcome on its platform.
“We unequivocally condemn white supremacy, neonazism, or any other group, term, ideology that is based on these beliefs,” the company said in a statement. “They are not welcome on Discord. While we don’t read people’s private servers, our Terms of Service explicitly forbid harassment, threatening messages, or calls to violence.”
In the wake of Discord’s new statement, Polygon asked the company if it had any plans to take action against Centipede Central. The group has been reported on for spreading doxxing lists, something that violates Discord’s terms of service, but Centipede Central has never faced heavy consequences.
“The team has confirmed that they are aware of Centipede Central and will take action if they find CC is in violation of their terms of service and/or community guidelines,” a Discord representative told Polygon. “Discord takes a firm stand against this type of behavior on the platform.”
Discord’s statement is still vague about what exactly it plans to do about the server, but two of Centipede Central’s moderators say they aren’t worried about being shut down. In an interview with Polygon, two users who go by the usernames Michael and Based_Brit, likened what their members did to what those on 4chan practice. 4chan, and specific forums like /pol/ or /b/, have always been defended by its users as being a go-to place for “shitposting” — an internet term that essentially translates into perceived satire.
4chan became infamous as the breeding ground for hate groups like GamerGate and hacking collective Anonymous. It was the website that users came to in order to spread stolen, naked photos of celebrities — often referred to as “FapGate” — and post photos of crude, vile images. In 2015, 4chan’s founder, Christopher “Moot” Poole, made headlines when he announced he was retiring from the site. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Moot — who tried to rein in the worst parts of the website and faced the wrath of 4chan users — said it all came back to anonymity.
“Anonymity enables people to share things they wouldn't otherwise do," Poole said. "That's always been my party line.”
Centipede Central is no different. Most users don’t use their real names — and most don’t want their usernames known outside the digital walls of the server, either. When asked by Polygon whether they were worried about being taken at face value for the sentiments being spread around the server, Michael (who uses a photo of “the most hated man in America” Martin Shkreli as his profile image) said he’s never been concerned.
“Trolling isn’t hard to understand in text form,” Michael said. “When people talk about ‘we have discord admins watching now’ and then a few lines of text later start spamming about how they are real life Nazis, its pretty easy to tell that they aren’t serious, especially when these people have never said anything like that in the past. I think its only difficult to understand that these people aren’t joking if you don’t want to believe they are joking.”
In a Daily Dot article from earlier this year, the author reiterated that deciphering between “whether or not the shit you see was posted in earnest or as part of an ‘ironic,’ anarchic subculture” was crucial when looking at any kind of post or sentiment online.
This is one of the most glaring issues with servers like Centipede Central that, according to its users, include satirical comments about the current political climate. It’s impossible to tell for certain who’s joking and who legitimately practices the hateful ideology Discord wants to rid itself of. Even moderators like Michael and Based_Brit admit that there are people who hang out in Centipede Central who believe the words they’re righting adding that they can’t keep an eye out on every new member.
“There obviously are, but we do our best to moderate that and keep it out,” Michael said. “Our rules that have existed long before this event [that] explicitly state ‘no racism.’ There are bad apples in every group. If we see that someone who has only joked around and had fun suddenly start saying ‘I’m a world renowned Nazi, ask me anything’ after we tell them that the community is being watched then, yeah, I can say with confidence that person is just trolling the Developers/Media. If we see someone that comes in and just rants about white supremacy then we know what they are up to and get rid of them since it doesn’t belong in our server.”
Even though Michael sees Centipede Central as a place for people to come and shitpost — a number of whom are active members on 4chan’s /pol/ and Reddit’s “The_Donald” — there’s no question that the messages are inappropriate. When users claim that those standing in the middle of a street are begging to be run down, referring to the tragic incident in Charlottesville, it technically violates Discord’s terms of service.
“When hatred like this violates our community standards we act swiftly to take servers down and ban individual users,” Discord’s statement says.
It’s not like Discord administrators haven’t been looking into Centipede Central either. Both a Discord representative and Based_Brit confirmed administrators have checked in on the server multiple times, but nothing has come of it. The last time someone from the company joined the server, Based_Brit said, was Monday.
“One of them joined yesterday whilst everything was happening,” Based_Brit told Polygon. “Given the server size though this is normal. We've had them join and leave as they wish.”
Though Discord hasn’t found a reason to shut down Centipede Central, activist groups have collected evidence demonstrating users breaking terms of service. Many of these messages can be seen in the screenshots collected. Polygon received an email from a user who asked to remain anonymous for protection about the server’s activities in recent months, including leading up to the rally in Charlottesville.
“We feel passionately that CC is the kind of place where hatred and vitriol simmer to a boil,” they said. “It's in these places that the worst impulses of the alt right have been allowed to grow stronger. It's the kind of place where impressionable young men share racist memes with legitimate, ideological Nazis. CC encouraged it's members to attend the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally. They had a channel available specifically for the rally. It's a surreal read to go back and relive this attack through their eyes.”
Michael and Based_Brit say they don’t consider themselves racists or neo-Nazis, something they pointed out very quickly during our interview, but as the conversation continued, vitriol that has accompanied alt-right statements in the past kept surfacing.
“I would also like to add that the left feigns outrage all the time, they weren’t upset over political violence during the Berkeley riots when innocent people were getting attacked,” Michael said. “They also weren’t upset when #punchanazi was trending on Twitter for weeks on end, they glorified it.
“I don’t really care what people label me. I know what I am and I’m not a racist. I know what the vast majority of our community makes up and they aren’t racists.”
Despite Michael’s claims that many of Centipede Central’s members aren’t racists, screenshots collected tell a different story. Racist, derogatory comments fill the pages of conversations in Centipede Central. Channels like “gas-chamber” exist (this no longer does, and Polygon has reached out to Discord to confirm if it was ordered to be removed). There are multiple times when the server has violated the company’s terms of service, but Michael isn’t worried about the server getting shut down. It’s all jokes, according to him, and he’s positive that Discord administrators will see through it.
“I think anyone with common sense that actually looks at the server for more than 30 seconds will realize that hate isn’t what we’re about,” Michael said. “In Discord’s statement, they said they would shut down servers with ‘white supremacy, nazi ideology and all forms of hate;’ that isn’t CC so I’m confident CC will continue to go on.”
The future of the server is up to Discord to decide.