We’ve entered the timeline where the world’s richest troll, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, has bought Twitter. The deal, which ran him a cool $44 billion, will pretty much give the tech bro free rein over the Bird App. Now, he can “authenticate all humans” like he intends to, pushing us ever closer to our seemingly inevitable dystopian future. Many folks online were upset by this buyout, with some saying the news would motivate them to ditch the bird’s nest for good.
In the wake of Musk’s purchase, conversation on the app turned to where people flying the coop might go, and one name was floated as a viable alternative more than any other. Discord, once seen as a niche messaging tool primarily for gamers, began trending on Twitter as many advocated for a mass exodus to the platform. Whether such an exodus actually manifests or not, the chatter indicates that perceptions around Discord have shifted, and that the app might be poised for a mainstream breakthrough.
Discord had humble beginnings. Launched in 2015 as a modern take on old-school chat rooms like ICQ and those once found on AOL, the instant messaging app was built for gamers to talk games with other gamers. Servers are divided into different channels or chat rooms dedicated to specific topics, like Elden Ring speedrunning for instance, and depending on a server’s settings, often the only way to join one is if a moderator invites you to it. This somewhat closed-off, community-oriented structure contributed to the perception that Discord was a gamer’s app, though once the pandemic hit, it saw a huge spike in popularity, and clearly not just among gamers.
By mid-2021, the platform had as many as 150 million monthly active users. Of course, people were playing video games more—hello Animal Crossing—and the pandemic saw more people using Discord to play tabletop RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons remotely as well. But Discord’s usage was also expanding well beyond gaming-centered circles. After all, folks were locked indoors, and Discord’s a great way to keep in touch with friends over long distances. It’s an even better method to organize communities around niche topics and subcultures you care about, gaming-related or not.
Twitter, on the other hand, is just different. Originally built as a microblogging platform to share “what’s happening” in your world with anyone who follows you, it’s since grown into a space for both advocacy and bigotry to proliferate. Musk’s complicated history of mocking pronoun usage and clamping down on Tesla dissent have left many wary of how this “free speech absolutist” might run the Bird App. And now that Musk has scooped Twitter up, some believe he will make the platform worse in the long-run. There’s even some discussion that banned racists and far-right extremists like Donald Trump and Milo Yiannopoulos could be replatformed under Musk’s regime, which doesn’t bode well for marginalized queer folks like myself.
As such, there was lots of chatter online around Discord serving as a potential safe haven from the gremlins lurking in Twitter’s digital shadows. Some folks support the idea of moving to the instant messaging platform, saying Musk is liable to “fuck up” Twitter’s usability. While Discord can be overwhelming for those who want to be active in many communities, it seems some folks, at least, would take the closed-community aspect of Discord over the shouting-in-a-public-square vibe Twitter regularly gives off.
Still, Discord isn’t without its own issues. Many chastised the app’s servers as “walled gardens” in which harmful rhetoric can—and often does—fester. There’s also the problem of supporting artists, many of whom use Twitter as a way to get their creations in front of people and monetize their content. In many fundamental ways, Discord and Twitter just aren’t the same and don’t fill a similar hole.
Kotaku has reached out to Discord for comment.
Despite the back and forth over whether Discord is the new Twitter, the chatter cements the instant messaging app into the mainstream. Twitter is often called a public square, and Musk believes it’s “the digital space where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated.” If folks are talking more openly about migrating to Discord, it might be a matter of time before celebrities such as Kim Kardashian and the like start their own servers.