The r/Pokémon subreddit Discord is one of the bigger online meeting places for players and fans of the hit Nintendo series. It boasts over 300,000 users who use it to battle, trade, or just hang out in between work, classes, or whatever else is going on in their lives. And this week its owner was banned from the platform following allegations he sexually preyed on underage users.
Content warning: The following article includes mentions of grooming, child pornography, and other predatory behavior.
Since its creation in 2015, the r/Pokémon Discord has served as a key meeting place for players of a series whose most recent releases, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, were the Nintendo Switch’s fastest-selling games ever. The Discord server is unofficial, meaning it’s not moderated by Nintendo or The Pokémon Company, and also open to players as young as 13 years old, though there are no safety checks in place that might stop even younger users from making a Discord account.
The r/Pokémon Discord’s chief admin has been a user known as technophønix. But it wasn’t until this past December, however, that screenshots allegedly showing technophønix soliciting child pornography from minors on the server and attempting to meet them for sex were first reported to the Discord’s other mods. They say they opened a ticket with Discord to investigate the issue immediately, but it wasn’t until February 2, over a month later, that Discord finally removed him from the server and permanently banned him from its service.
“While we continuously invest heavily in technological advancements and tools to proactively detect CSAM and grooming, we also rely on Discord moderators and users to file reports, which we review and investigate on an escalated basis,” a Discord spokesperson told Kotaku in a statement. “Due to the volume of reports we investigate, it is not currently our policy to provide regular updates or communication regarding the status of these investigations and any related actions. However, we can confirm in this case that the review of this report followed standard protocol, and the user in question has been permanently banned.”
An r/Pokémon Discord mod who goes by the nick Cell was the one who originally reported the allegations to Discord. They told Kotaku the first evidence of child grooming and predatory behavior was first reported to them on December 16. An official report was then sent via a support ticket to Discord’s Trust and Safety team on December 17. The only response Cell received was around January 11 when a Discord rep told them the matter was still under investigation. It wasn’t until February 2 that Cell and the rest of the mods finally received confirmation from Discord that technophønix had been banned.
The things he’s accused of were exhaustively detailed in a Google Document prepared by Cell and others, including several alleged screenshots of disturbing Discord conversations in which technophønix repeatedly asks for photos of sexual acts involving users Cell and others say were minors at the time. In some screenshots technophønix even talks about bringing them to his home or attempting to travel to meet up with them. The alleged screenshots date back as early as 2016 and as recently as 2020, and include exchanges in which technophønix appears to defend child pornography and statutory rape based on how old the victim is.
Kotaku asked technophønix for comment on Discord prior to his ban but did not immediately hear back. In screenshots of conversations with mods after he was confronted, technophønix claimed to be unaware the people he was speaking with were minors, said he did not seek them out via the r/Pokémon Discord server, and that certain comments were intended as jokes or made while he was intoxicated.
After the allegations first surfaced, Cell told Kotaku that technophønix was initially “compliant” with their calls for him to leave the Discord and transfer control of it over to the other admins. But when the transfer never came, Cell and others broke off to form a new Discord on January 30 and tried to inform new and existing users about the allegations and the need to join the new server. Meanwhile, messages on the old Discord server about technophønix were reportedly nuked, leaving many members confused and in the dark about what was going on.
“We pinged everyone, and the server became utter chaos afterwards,” Cell told Kotaku. “[technophønix] deleted the original announcement, locked the whole server down (meaning nobody is able to send messages in the server), started kicking people from the server, and finally after almost an hour, he told us he was prepared to come up with terms with us regarding the server.”
That became moot once Discord finally stepped in, however. “We’re very sorry that you came across this type of content, and we understand that this can be concerning and stressful to report,” a representative of the Discord Trust & Safety team wrote in a February 2 email responding to the initial ticket. “We are extremely grateful for you coming forth with this information, and for assisting us in our efforts to keep Discord as safe as possible.”
Cell and the other mods spent the day trying to gain official ownership of the original r/Pokémon Discord server, which turned into another mini-roller coaster ride. While Cell and the other admins have the power to unlock the original server when ready, Discord initially told them it could not transfer ownership of a server that belonged to a deactivated account. Roughly 10 hours later, a different company rep told them to disregard the prior message and that ownership would be transferred immediately “given the circumstance.”
Discord declined to answer any questions when Kotaku reached out.
The company came under scrutiny last year when it was revealed that the person responsible for the mass shooting in Buffalo, New York had used it to share plans leading up to the massacre. Social media platforms and gaming communities in general have faced criticism for not investing more resources in moderating the spread of extremist groups and ideology online. Protecting minors from sexual predators, however, is an even more basic safety issue.
“Safety is vital to our work at Discord, and we take the protection of all Discord users, especially our younger users, incredibly seriously,” a spokesperson for Discord told Kotaku. “We work relentlessly to keep child-harm content off our service and take action when we become aware of it, including banning users, shutting down servers, and when appropriate, engaging with the proper authorities.”
Correction 02/03/2023 4:28 p.m. ET: Fixed an inaccuracy regarding the timing of the mod team filing the support ticket.