Discord pays teens to compliment each other

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

Jaap Arriens | OnlyPhoto | Getty Images

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

The world has come a long way since the Arab Spring and through many reckonings with both the benefits and risks of social media, including the potential impact on teenage health and well-being. Seattle Public Schools recently filed a lawsuit against TikTok, Meta, Snap and others alleging a social media-induced youth mental health crisis.

Social media is also facing one of its biggest legal challenges of all time, with the Supreme Court poised to consider whether Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act should grant these companies immunity from user content liability claims, as it has done throughout their rise.

So there’s a good reason the next big thing on social media is about positivity, and here we are again, social media company Discord, announcing this week the acquisition of Gas, a fast-growing social Media company that aims 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 fun, yet meaningful place for young people,” Discord explained in a blog post about the deal. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Gas allows users to exchange compliments anonymously via 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, Gas your friends.”

The app is growing in popularity among teenagers. In just two months since its August launch, Gas has surpassed TikTok and BeReal in the ranking of free apps on the Apple App Store, reaching 1 million daily active users. It was crowned the “Hottest App Right Now” by the Wall Street Journal. In October, it recorded 30,000 new users per hour.

Gas had its early problems – it was unfairly embroiled in a sex trafficking scam this fall that forced its founder to respond after three percent of users deleted their accounts.

But Gas has continued to evolve as a place for teenagers to mingle with their peers, amassing 7.4 million installs.

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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. Still, 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 several anonymous polling apps, including Yolo and LMK, where users can ask their friends questions, which they can then answer anonymously — and have also proven far from immune to abuse. Last year, Snap banned anonymous messaging apps.

While anonymous features pose a particular risk to user security and can increase harassment, Gas says it avoids these roadblocks through surveys consisting of Gas-approved compliments. These compliment prompts prevent users from creating their own polls or sending direct messages that could contain harmful content.

Gas itself explains in its app description: “Gas is where friends tell you what they love about you. And no, they won’t dunk you like other anonymous apps. Here’s how it works: 1) Join your school 2) Add friends 3) Answer polls 4) Get flames if you choose them.”

Discord has had its own share of safety issues related to its success with a younger demographic, with reports of harassment on the platform increasing in recent years. The company has invested heavily in combating this problem, acquiring Sentropy, an AI-based software company focused on combating online abuse and harassment. In its most recent Transparency Report, published in December 2022, the company said it had disabled 42,458 accounts and removed 14,451 servers for child safety violations in Q3 2022, representing a 92% decrease in the number of disabled accounts compared to Q3 2022 corresponds to the previous quarter.

Discord burst onto the social app scene in 2015 as a platform for video gamers to chat and has expanded 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 usage to offer a more general use-case voice chat platform and live stream capabilities, while also allowing users to monetize their servers.

In 2021, as social audio was booming, Discord released Stage Channels, giving users a new way to organize and host large audio events. In July, it released Threads, a way to fork a conversation from a channel’s main feed without removing it from the channel. The company also has premium membership features that allow creators and community owners to request a subscription to access all or part of their server, receive tiered perks, and view member engagement analytics.

It was reported that Microsoft once made an offer for the company, although no agreement was reached.

Unlike the first-gen social media giants, Discord doesn’t make money from advertising, and that’s something else it has in common with Gas, aside from focusing on a younger demographic. Gas got its nearly $7 million in user spend from paid subscription features like “God Mode,” which gives users clues as to who complimented them.

Gas will operate as a standalone app for now, but that doesn’t rule out the possibility of polls becoming a new method of communication on Discord.

“We’re always working to create an inclusive world where no one feels like an outsider, and we’re 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 toughest tasks the companies will find, as many social media apps have done before – is to keep the story positive.

CNBC is now accepting nominations for the 2023 Disruptor 50 list – our 11th annual look at the most innovative venture capital companies. Learn more about eligibility and how to submit an application by Friday, February 2nd. 17

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