The online chat platform Discord is buying Sentropy, a company that makes AI-powered software to detect and remove online harassment and hate.
Discord currently uses a "multilevel" approach to moderation, relying on an in-house human moderation team as well as volunteer mods and admins to create ground rules for individual servers. A Trust and Safety team dedicated to protecting users and shaping content moderation policies comprised 15% of Discord's workforce as of May 2020.
Discord plans to integrate Sentropy's own products into its existing toolkit and the company will also bring the smaller company's leadership group aboard. The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the acquisition is a sign that taking toxic content and harassment seriously isn't just the right thing to do — it's good business too.
"T&S tech and processes should not be used as a competitive advantage," Sentropy CEO John Redgrave said in a blog post on the announcement. "We all deserve digital and physical safety, and moderators deserve better tooling to help them do one of the hardest jobs online more effectively and with fewer harmful impacts."
Discord hasn't always had a reputation for taking dangerous content seriously. Far-right groups with ties to real-world violence previously thrived on the platform. Discord cracked down on hate and extremism following the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, which left anti-racist protester Heather Heyer dead.
By February of 2018, the company was purging white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups, cleaning up the platform on its journey to transcend its gaming roots and grow into a mainstream social network. Now, Discord boasts 150 million monthly active users and is positioning itself as a comfy home for all kinds of communities while holding onto its core user base of gamers.
In a blog post, Redgrave elaborated on the company's natural connection with Discord:
Discord represents the next generation of social companies — a generation where users are not the product to be sold, but the engine of connectivity, creativity, and growth. In this model, user privacy and user safety are essential product features, not an afterthought. The success of this model depends upon building next-generation Trust and Safety into every product. We don’t take this responsibility lightly and are humbled to work at the scale of Discord and with Discord’s resources to increase the depth of our impact.
Sentropy launched out of stealth last summer with an AI system designed to detect, track and cleanse platforms of online harassment and abuse. The company emerged then with $13 million in funding from notable backers including Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian and his VC firm Initialized Capital, King River Capital, Horizons Ventures and Playground Global.
Sentropy will offer existing enterprise customers who use its software products Detect and Defend service through the end of September. The company shut down its free consumer dashboard, Sentropy Protect, earlier this month.
Sentropy's products were conceived as social network-agnostic tools rather than as platform-specific solutions. It sounds like even under Discord's wing, the team plans to share insights on building safer online spaces with the internet at large.
"We are excited to help Discord decide how we can most effectively share with the rest of the Internet the best practices, technology, and tools that we’ve developed to protect our own communities," Redgrave said.
Discord's future is looking bright. The company walked away from a possible acquisition by Microsoft earlier this year that reportedly valued it at around $10 billion. Discord looks content to remain independent for now and could chart a path toward an IPO in the not-too-distant future.