Discord pays for teens to compliment each other


The Discord app is seen on an iPhone in this photo illustration in Warsaw, Poland on April 3, 2021.

Jaap Ariens | NurPhoto | Getty Images

We’ve been here and done this before when it comes to social media: A new, fast-growing app offers a way for online users to share inspiration and encouragement. At one point in the history of most social media companies, stretching all the way back to Facebook’s role in global “democratization” during the Arab Spring, social media’s early success was focused on positive effects.

The world has come a long way since the Arab Spring and has given much consideration to both the benefits and risks of social media, including the potential impact on the health and well-being of teenagers. Seattle Public Schools recently filed a lawsuit against TikTok, Meta, Snap and others over an alleged youth mental health crisis caused by social media.

Social media is also facing one of its biggest legal challenges ever, with the Supreme Court set to rule on whether Section 230 statute of the Communications Decency Act should grant these companies immunity from user content liability claims, as has been the case during their emergence.

So there’s a good reason why the next big thing in social media is all about positivity, and here we are again, with social media company Discord announcing this week its acquisition of Gas, a fast-growing social media company designed to promote positive affirmations.

“Gas is all about uplifting and empowering each other through positive affirmations. Its tremendous success demonstrates the opportunity that exists in creating a playful yet meaningful place for young people,” Discord stated in a blog post about the deal. The terms of the deal have not been disclosed.

Gas allows users to anonymously share compliments with each other through polls, or as TheVerge noted in a report on the deal: “The app is designed for anonymous compliments and positive affirmations or, as kids say, gassing your friends.”

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If you’ve never heard of Gas, it didn’t come out of nowhere. Its founder Nikita Bier previously sold tbh, another poll-based app, to Facebook in 2017, but the app was shut down in less than a year due to low usage. Nevertheless, Discord said in the blog post that “Gas’s founders have a proven track record of creating exciting apps and experiences.”

Snapchat’s platform has multiple anonymous polling apps, including Yolo and LMK, where users can ask questions to their friends who can then answer anonymously — and also proved far from immune to abuse. Last year, Snap banned anonymous messaging apps.

While anonymous features can pose a specific risk to user security and increase harassment, Gas says it avoids these obstacles through polls consisting of Gas-approved compliments. These compliment prompts prevent users from creating their own polls or sending direct messages, which may contain malicious content.

Gas itself explains in the app description that “Gas is where friends tell you what they like about you. And no, they won’t dunk you like other anonymous apps. How it works: 1) Join your school 2) Add friends 3) Answer polls 4) Get flames when you get picked.”

Discord has had its own security issues related to its success among a younger demographic, with reports of harassment rising on the platform in recent years. The company has invested heavily to combat this problem by acquiring Sentropy, an AI-based software company focused on fighting online abuse and harassment. In its latest transparency report, published in December 2022, the company said it disabled 42,458 accounts and removed 14,451 servers for child safety violations in the third quarter of 2022, a 92% drop in accounts disabled compared to with the previous quarter.

Discord entered the social app scene in 2015 as a platform for video game players to chat with each other and is expanding beyond its roots as an alternative to spotty Skype chats for gamers. The two-time CNBC Disruptor 50 company has moved beyond its predominantly gaming-based applications, offering a more general use-case voice chat platform and live streaming capabilities, while also allowing users to monetize their servers.

As social audio boomed, Discord released Stage channels in 2021, giving users a new way to organize and host major audio events. In July it released Threads, a way to split a conversation off of a channel’s main feed without removing it from the channel. The company also has premium membership features, requiring creators and community owners to subscribe to access all or part of their server, view tiered benefits, and member engagement analytics.

Microsoft reportedly made an offer for the company at one point, but no deal was reached.

Discord, unlike the first-generation social media giants, doesn’t monetize ads, and that gives it something in common with Gas other than a focus on a younger demographic. Gas earned its nearly $7 million in user spending through paid subscription features like “God Mode,” which gives users hints as to who gave them compliments.

For now, Gas will work as a standalone app, but this doesn’t rule out polls becoming a new method of communication on Discord.

“We are always working to create an inclusive world where no one feels like an outsider and we are excited to welcome Gas to the Discord community as our next step in fulfilling that vision,” Discord said in the blog post.

One of the hardest tasks businesses will face, as many social media apps have done before: keeping the story positive.

CNBC is now accepting nominations for the 2023 Disruptor 50 list — our 11th annual look at the most innovative venture-backed companies. Read more about eligibility and how to apply before Friday 17 February.

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