New Zealand police are investigating online apps where Kiwis are buying and selling illicit products and services. Katie Harris looks into the dark side of messaging App Discord.
The private groups are invite-only.
Under the guise of a standard messaging app, but often used for more sinister purposes, Discord has slipped its way into the millennial lexicon and shows no signs of going away.
It allows users to buy and sell drugs without disclosing their names and details, and all at speeds that some users say is faster than Uber.
The app is a messaging platform that was originally used by gamers, but since its inception in 2015 it's morphed into a forum for some users' alternative businesses.
Chat messages seen by the Herald show drug sellers using pseudonyms to pawn off varieties of drugs, including cannabis, Colombian cocaine, LSD, CBD, Dexies and Gamma.
When asked in an Official information Act request how many officers had worked undercover on the app in the past five years, police said revealing this would prejudice the maintenance of the law.
Discord's website states there are more than 130 million active monthly users, and 13.5 million active chat channels (which it calls "servers") per week.
In one channel viewed by the Herald, a member was warning others not to deal with a certain seller because he would "happily rip you off $30 and then ghost you".
One user, who the Herald has agreed not to name, said he has bought marijuana, MDMA and ketamine off the site.
"You can also buy acid, sometimes cocaine and DMT but I haven't and there are strict rules around what you can sell [on that channel] like no meth or 'dodgy drugs'."
He said dealers would usually deliver to him, but he puts an address about a five-minute walk away from his home.
A lot of the drug sellers were erratic, said the Wellington man, so meeting with them can be uncomfortable.
"Most dealers will test [the drugs] in front of you before you buy, they also share test results of drugs openly on their channels. I've never bought anything bad but I know it happens, especially to more desperate people who would take anything over nothing."
He said it's common knowledge that police are watching the channels, however he didn't think they could see private chats between buyers and dealers.
"Being a buyer you aren't at too much risk of prosecution unlike dealers, especially when just buying weed."
It's not just illicit drugs he uses it for, and the student said some of his classes had Discord channels to discuss papers.
The New Zealand Drug Foundation warned that buying drugs anywhere carries risks, but it's exacerbated online.
Deputy executive director Ben Birks Ang said buyers are less likely to know who the dealer is and may not have a way to get back in touch with them.
"Which means there's less of that kind of market protection [compared to that] from somebody who was selling something that isn't what it was, say from their house."
In a statement, police told the Herald every time new technology becomes available offenders will work out how to use it for illicit purposes.
"For operational reasons police are not able to provide specific detail on which platforms are used, or specific tactics criminals or police use."
A Discord spokesperson said the company had a zero-tolerance policy for illegal activity on the service.
"When we become aware of illegal activity we take immediate action, including banning users, shutting down servers, and when appropriate, cooperating with the proper authorities or organisations. "
Discord has Terms of Service and Community Guidelines that all users must adhere to which outline several rules for interacting with each other.
"You may not operate a server that sells or facilitates the sales of prohibited or potentially dangerous goods. This includes firearms, ammunition, drugs, and controlled substances."