How Social Media Incentives Helped Drive the Discord Leaks

The national security breach by Airman Jack Teixeira must finally prompt policymakers to address the online incentives social media and messaging companies create, argues Dr. Emma L. Briant, a political communication scholar who researches contemporary propaganda and military information warfare and its governance and ethics in an age of mass-surveillance.  Shutterstock National Guard Airman Jack Teixeira was able to share US secrets on Discord for nearly a year before authorities caught up with him. To understand why, after so long, Teixeira’s leaking was eventually revealed, it’s worth considering the key role the social app Discord, and the incentives in the broader social media ecosystem, played in his leaks. Teixeira planned his intelligence leaks in part guided by the response he received on the messaging app, like an influencer generating engagement from ‘fans.’ And, he did so in a broader political and cultural context where sharing classified information is not a shock – in fact, it’s encouraged. This may eventually have made him a victim of his own success. Apps like Discord are designed to encourage attention-seeking behavior, and thus they present a specific vulnerability for the military – not least because within such communities, spies may also be lurking.  This is particularly concerning with extremists like Teixeira, who engaged in a toxic stew of far-right politics and is reported to have stated online “If I had my way I’d kill a [EXPLETIVE] ton of people … Bc in all honesty you have to … whether or not you like it ……How Social Media Incentives Helped Drive the Discord Leaks