UK Treasury joins chat app Discord and is met with torrent of abuse

Users on gamer-focused platform manage to respond to posts despite government blocking all comments

The UK Treasury has opened an account on Discord to a torrent of abuse from users of the gamer-focused chat app – abuse they managed to send despite the government blocking all comments on the service.

As Twitter’s future looks increasingly uncertain, prominent users are preparing alternatives, directing followers to Facebook and Instagram accounts, handing out their Mastodon addresses, and setting up servers on chat apps such as Discord.

With its community-focused approach, where servers encourage tight-knit groups to form and discuss issues related to the overall focus of the topic, Discord may seem an odd fit for the strait-laced world of government communications.

But the app has a lot of users interested in finance, thanks to solid take-up among day traders and crypto fans, two groups the Treasury is eager to connect with.

The result: a read-only Discord server, where the only user who is allowed to post is the snappily named HMTreasurySocialAdmin1, who shares tweet-length news about the Treasury and chancellor.

But trolls will always find a way. Although posting is banned, emoji reactions are enabled, letting any user respond to a post from the Treasury with a single emoji, and new users are cheerily announced in a “welcome” channel.

That means the Treasury’s server has been eagerly posting automated messages such as, “Welcome, LOCK UP PRINCE ANDREW. We hope you brought pizza”, and “Welcome Jeremy Corbyn. Say hi!”. The latter does not appear to be the real account of the former leader of the opposition.

The latest official post from the Treasury has reactions including the middle finger emoji, clown emoji, and aubergine emoji, commonly used to indicate a penis. Less plainly abusive emoji reactions have included the trans rights flag, EU flag, and a pregnant man emoji, protesting against government policies in those areas.

Others have embraced the fact that letters are included in the list of emojis, and more than 100 people have apparently coordinated to attempt to write out the chancellor’s name, “Hunt”, underneath the post. Unusually, however, every one of them seems to have made the same typing error, accidentally spelling out a vulgarity instead.

Although the Treasury still has a Twitter account, it would not be the first big organisation to leave the social network following Elon Musk’s acquisition. One of Musk’s first official actions as Twitter chief executive was to end the company’s old verification system and offer “verified” status to any user who paid £7 a month.

That led to a wave of impersonation, first of Musk himself, and later of major advertisers and celebrities on the platform, including Nintendo, Joe Biden and the pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly.

A tweet from a fake verified account attributed to the latter claimed it would be making insulin free, and was live on the website for more than six hours as representatives struggled to contact someone at Twitter, which has laid off half its staff in the last month.

As a result of the chaos, the social network has introduced, pulled, reintroduced, pulled, and reintroduced a second time a new tier of verification, marking some users as “official” with a grey checkmark below their name. The move has come too late for a number of big advertisers, including GM, who have paused all spending on the site until “brand safety” issues are solved.

The company has secured one new advertiser, however: Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which is launching a new ad campaign imminently.


Alex Hern UK technology editor

The GuardianTramp

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