From Chans to Chaos: Gamer Spaces and School Attacks in Brazil

December 14, 2023


Recent years have seen a significant increase in school-related attacks in Brazil — and the Ministry of Education has documented that social media is contributing to the escalation of violence, especially within digital socialization spaces that are part of the gamer culture, such as Discord and chans. 

Here, we share three key findings from this critical report:

1 – The True Crime Community (TCC) subculture has shifted from real-crime enthusiasts to extremists who celebrate school massacres.

The TCC is an online subculture found on social platforms like Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and Discord. It was established by content creators and individuals interested in real-life crimes, but starting in 2021, the Brazilian TCC saw an influx of extremist members glorifying murderers, school shooters, and white supremacists. This influx shifted TCC towards celebrating massacres and idolizing their perpetrators, including events like Columbine (USA, 1999), Christchurch (New Zealand, 2019), and Aracruz (Brazil, 2022). The report finds that because attacks on schools are often “copycat crimes,” TCC’s praise for school attacks has enhanced the deadly ripple effect of each event.

This glorification of violence follows the international playbook of neo-Nazism and extremism recruiters. Investigative journalist Sofia Schurig has documented TCC posts with similar content in English, Spanish, Russian, and Brazilian Portuguese, all connected with neo-Nazism, neo-fascism, and radical extremism. In 2023, after extensive media coverage of an attack on a school in Vila Sônia, multiple TCC posts emerged encouraging further massacres. Violent content glorified hate speech, misogyny, necrophilia, and sexual and physical abuse, especially targeting animals, women, non-whites, and individuals with disabilities.

 ¹Brazilian Ministry of Education, School Attacks in Brazil: Analyzing the Phenomenon and Recommendations for Government Action (October 2023)

2 – Discord plays a key role:

Police have found specific connections between servers organized on Discord and school attacks: attacks in Barreiras (2022) and Cambé (2023) were both organized on this platform. The perpetrator of the Aracruz massacre (2022) was part of a Discord community and, in the days leading up to the attack, publicly announced his violent intentions and even distributed Discord server invitations on Twitter. 

Discord poses challenges for monitoring and investigations due to its ineffective moderation. In addition

 it’s challenging to map servers on Discord, and there isn’t a comprehensive server database to consult. Users identify themselves with nicknames, and usernames can be changed at any time. Servers can be deleted entirely or partially, and the platform doesn’t store data, resulting in a loss of historical information.

 Since the wave of school violence in Brazil, Discord has established a presence in Brazil and introduced a monitoring tool for families. However, it has been lenient with users who violate its usage policy prohibiting hate speech.

3 – Chans and Their Significance: Imageboards, commonly known as “chans,” are simple-interface internet forums created for the anonymous sharing of text and images. Chans are divided into boards for discussing various topics, including video games, anime, politics, music, and movies. The most famous chan is 4chan, renowned for shaping internet culture, creating its unique language known as “chanspeak,” and facilitating political actions on social networks. It was on 4chan that the profile known as “Q,” claiming high-level access to classified U.S. government information, emerged and disseminated conspiracy theories, giving rise to the international QAnon movement.

Because all posts are made anonymously, users often call themselves “anons” or “anonymous.” (In Brazil, chan users refer to themselves as “annons,” though outsiders generally know them as “channers.”)  With the benefits of anonymity and the challenge of tracking, chan users feel secure when committing crimes. Traditionally, most extremist chans were hosted on the dark web. 

Unmoderated social media content and discourse closely resemble that of chans, but the scale of users on non-chan platforms is incomparably larger, and algorithmic recommendation mechanisms facilitate the rapid, exponential spread of such content.

²Agência Pública, ADD TITLE HERE (April 2023)


The prevalent influence on the youth and pathways forward

The report reveals that school-age teenagers predominantly engage in these socialization spaces, highlighting an opportunity for capacity building for school professionals in direct contact with these groups. This training should emphasize young people’s interaction with digital platforms, fostering an understanding of digital and gamer culture, along with the importance of caution regarding content promoting hate culture and violence. 

While parental control tools and source verification features empower platform users, they are not an immediate solution. Users unfamiliar with these spaces face hurdles due to low information and lack of media literacy. Parents and guardians rarely know about or use these features.

Efficient structural changes, as suggested in the report, hinge on regulating social media. This involves outlining provider responsibilities, risk reporting, and mitigation measures. Uncooperative platforms neglecting the removal of illicit content and violating child protection standards must be held accountable. Platforms should establish reporting mechanisms, encouraging users to report irregularities, and invest significantly in media literacy. Collaborative efforts across government levels, the broader community, and civil society are essential for effective intersectoral and interinstitutional work.

Mariana Ribeiro Sr. Advisor of Global Programs
Choose Both: A Digital Guide
for Equity & Evidence