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November 12, 2021

Discord halts cryptocurrency and NFT plans following user backlash

By Robert Scammell

Discord has said it doesn’t plan to move into cryptocurrencies and NFTs after users worried about scams and the technology’s environmental impact began cancelling subscriptions from the group chat messaging platform.

The backlash was sparked when an old Discord survey resurfaced asking users for their views on Web3, decentralised finance and NFTs, or “non-fungible tokens” as they are also known.

Then Jason Citron, founder and CEO of Discord, stoked more speculation by sharing a screenshot of a mock-up for cryptocurrency wallet integration in Discord with the caption “probably nothing”.

Thousands of Discord users replied to that message with overwhelmingly negative responses. These ranged from “can’t wait to tell my friends that Discord is encouraging pyramid schemes” and “I want an app that does not enable a money-laundering scheme”.

Others posted screenshots of Discord subscription cancellation confirmations.

On Thursday – three days after Citron’s first post – the CEO added another message to clarify that Discord has “no current plans to ship this internal concept”.

He added: “For now we’re focused on protecting users from spam, scams and fraud. Web3 has lots of good but also lots of problems we need to work through at our scale. More soon.”

The company has since said the screenshot was part of a community hack week project rather than an official announcement.

Discord, which earlier this year was linked to an acquisition by Microsoft, is not alone in exploring cryptocurrency and NFT business avenues. This week Twitter said it has created a team to run the social media site’s blockchain and cryptocurrency plans, while tech giants such as Amazon have previously posted job ads for blockchain specialists.

However, the strong backlash from a loyal customer base and swift reversal by Discord is unusual. Often hype surrounding an emerging technology – be it AI, NFTs or the metaverse – is the driving force behind a product announcement.

In this case, Discord seems to have misjudged its customers and the threat of losing users paying $9.99 per month for its premium Nitro subscription outweighed the potential upside of riding the NFT wave.

NFTs are a token that are non-interchangeable, with ownership verified on an immutable digital ledger. Artists have used the technology to sell digital images for millions of dollars and critics say a bubble is inevitable.

NFTs are also seen as a cornerstone of the next version of the internet, known as Web3 or Web 3.0. The ability to prove digital ownership could become popular in gaming, with players able to buy one-of-a-kind in-game digital items.

But judging by Discord’s gaming-heavy userbase, not everyone is onboard with that idea.

According to GlobalData’s Thematic Research Intelligence Centre, Discord’s competitors include Germany’s TeamSpeak andcor the US’ Paltalk.

The Discord U-turn is also perhaps a reminder for CEOs to be wary of making non-official announcements on social media.

Tesla chief Elon Musk recently held a Twitter poll asking his 63 million follower whether he should sell a 10% stake of his electric car company. He went on to follow the outcome of that vote and sold around $5bn worth. However, documents with the US stock market regulator showed he started the sell-off in September, long before the Twitter poll.