The Discord app is seen on an iPhone in this photo illustration in Warsaw, Poland on April 3, 2021.
Yap Ariens | NurPhoto | Getty Images
We’ve been here and done this before when it comes to social media: A new, fast-growing app is providing a way for online users to share inspiration and encouragement. At some point in the history of most social media companies, dating back to Facebook’s role in global “democratization” during the Arab Spring, the early success of social media 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 impacts on the health and well-being of teenagers. Seattle Public Schools recently filed a lawsuit against TikTok, Meta, Snap and others, alleging a youth mental health crisis caused by social media.
Social media is also facing one of its biggest legal challenges ever, with the Supreme Court poised to reconsider whether Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act should grant these companies immunity from user content liability claims, as it did during their rise.
So it stands to reason that the next big thing in social media will be all about positivity, and here we are again as social media company Discord announced this week’s 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 massive success shows the opportunity that exists in creating a playful yet meaningful place for young people,” Discord said in a blog post about the deal. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Gas allows users to anonymously share compliments with each other through polls, or as TheVerge notes in a report on the deal, “The app is designed for anonymous compliments and positive affirmations or, as the kids say, gassing your friends.”
If you haven’t heard of gas, it didn’t come out of nowhere. Its founder Nikita Beer previously sold tbh, another survey-based app, to Facebook in 2017, but the app was shut down in less than a year due to low usage. However, Discord said in the blog post that “Gas’ founders have a proven track record of creating exciting apps and experiences.”
Snapchat’s platform has a number of anonymous voting apps, including Yolo and LMK, where users can ask questions of their friends, who can then answer anonymously — and they’ve also proven to be far from immune to abuse. Last year, Snap banned anonymous messaging apps.
Although anonymous features can pose a specific form of risk to user safety and increase harassment, Gas says it avoids these obstacles through surveys consisting of Gas-approved compliments. These compliment prompts do not allow users to create their own polls or send direct messages that may include harmful content.
Gas itself explains in its app description that “Gas is where your friends tell you what they like about you. And no, they won’t target you like other anonymous apps. How it works: 1) Join your school 2) Add friends 3) Answer polls 4) Get flames when selected.”
Discord has had its share of safety issues related to its success among a younger demographic, with increasing reports of harassment on the platform in recent years. The company has invested heavily in combating this problem, acquiring Sentropy, an AI-based software company focused on combating abuse and harassment online. 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% reduction in the number of disabled accounts compared to the previous quarter.
Entering the social app scene in 2015 as a platform for video game players to chat with each other, Discord has expanded beyond its roots as an alternative to spotty Skype chats for gamers. The two-time CNBC Disruptor 50 has gone beyond its primarily gaming-based uses, with a more general voice chat platform and live streaming capabilities, while also allowing users to monetize their servers.
As social audio continues to flourish, Discord launched Stage channels in 2021, giving users a new way to organize and host large audio events. In July, it released Threads, a way to branch off a conversation from the main channel feed without removing it from the channel. The company also has premium membership features, allowing creators and community owners to require a subscription to access all or part of their server, tiered benefits, and view member engagement analytics.
Microsoft reportedly made an offer for the company at one point, though no deal was reached.
Discord, unlike the first-generation social media giants, doesn’t make money from ads, and that gives it something in common with Gas beyond its focus on a younger demographic. Gas earned its nearly $7 million in user spending through paid subscription features like “God Mode,” which provides users with hints about who has complimented them.
For now, Gas will run as a standalone app, but that doesn’t rule out the possibility that polls will become 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 toward fulfilling that vision,” Discord said in the blog post.
One of the most difficult tasks that companies will find, as many social media applications have done before, is keeping the story positive.
CNBC is now accepting nominations for the 2023 Disruptor 50 list, our 11th annual look at the most innovative venture capital-backed companies. Find out more about eligibility and how to apply by Friday 17 February.