Over the last couple of days, stories of internet users meming stocks to new heights have dominated the news cycle. In response, entrenched powerful institutions such as the mainstream media have scrambled to find ways to clamp down on this phenomenon.
One of the tactics these mainstream media outlets have deployed is amplifying calls for regulators to step in and “manage the situation.” Such calls place pressure on Big Tech platforms to take action and suppress the conversations themselves to stave off the implied threat of regulation.
Now, on the same day that these calls started to circulate in the mainstream media, community chat app Discord has banned WallStreetBets, a popular online community that gave a huge boost to stocks such as video game retailer GameStop, for “hate speech.”
According to The Verge, the WallStreetBets Discord server had received multiple warnings over the past few months for “occasional” instances of “hate speech, glorifying violence, and spreading misinformation” which violate the company’s guidelines. Discord then decided to ban the server today.
Most tech companies have hate speech rules and invoking these rules as an excuse to shut down large, popular communities is an increasingly common tactic. Since hate speech is impossible to define, moderators have no way of truly knowing whether they’re complying with hate speech rules.
And when communities grow to the size of WallStreetBets, which had over 250,000 members on its Discord server, it’s impossible to find and remove every rule-breaking post before someone takes a screenshot and complains to Discord or the media. At this size, bad actors often infiltrate the community and intentionally post rule-breaking posts to sabotage the community which is another threat that’s almost impossible to mitigate at scale.
In a statement, Discord added:
“To be clear, we did not ban this server due to financial fraud related to GameStop or other stocks. Discord welcomes a broad variety of personal finance discussions, from investment clubs and day traders to college students and professional financial advisors. We are monitoring this situation and in the event there are allegations of illegal activities, we will cooperate with authorities as appropriate.”
A response post on WallStreetBets criticized Discord for “destroying our community” and described the shut down as “pretty unethical.” The post notes that WallStreetBets had taken steps to moderate the Discord including blacking “all bad words” with a bot and creating custom moderation software but that due to the rapid growth and the size of the community, it’s impossible to moderate all the posts:
“We’re suffering from success and our Discord was the first casualty. You know as well as I do that if you gather 250k people in one spot someone is going to say something that makes you look bad. That room was golden and the people that run it are awesome. We blocked all bad words with a bot, which should be enough, but apparently if someone can say a bad word with weird unicode icelandic characters and someone can screenshot it you don’t get to hang out with your friends anymore. Discord did us dirty and I am not impressed with them destroying our community instead of stepping in with the wrench we may have needed to fix things, especially after we got over 1,000 server boosts. That is pretty unethical.”
The post adds that WallStreetBets will now be using the Twitter handle @wsbmod to publicly reach out to infrastructure providers, respond directly to reporters, and show the world that “we aren’t doing anything wrong here.”