There Are Dark Corners of the Internet. Then There’s 764

WIRED collaborated with Der Spiegel, Recorder, and The Washington Post on this reporting. Each wrote separate stories that the news organizations agreed to publish in tandem. This story contains descriptions of abuse, self-harm, murder, and suicide. Reader discretion is advised.

It sounds like a cheap true-crime conspiracy: An international network of predators steeped in Satanism lure children from seemingly harmless online platforms like Discord, Minecraft, and Roblox and extort them to sexually exploit and grievously harm themselves. Some victims are even pushed to suicide.

Except it’s true.

A reporting consortium including Der Spiegel, Recorder, The Washington Post, and WIRED has unearthed a sprawling ecosystem that has targeted thousands of people and victimized dozens, if not hundreds, of children using some of the internet’s biggest platforms. Law enforcement believes the “com” network encompasses a swath of interlocking groups with thousands of users, including hundreds of hardcore members who victimize children through coordinated online campaigns of extortion, doxing, swatting, and harassment.

This reporting consortium has obtained and analyzed more than 3 million messages from more than 50 chat groups on Discord and Telegram. The messages expose multiple com subgroups and thousands of users in nearly a dozen countries on three continents. Our investigation found ample evidence of predatory conduct and a persistent presence across apps including Telegram and Discord, while WIRED also found com activity on Instagram, SoundCloud, and Roblox. The platforms are aware of these groups, but they have yet to successfully eradicate them.

The abuse perpetrated by members of com groups is extreme. They have coerced children into sexual abuse or self-harm, causing them to deeply lacerate their bodies to carve “cutsigns” of an abuser’s online alias into their skin. Victims have flushed their heads in toilets, attacked their siblings, killed their pets, and in some extreme instances, attempted or committed suicide. Court records from the United States and European nations reveal participants in this network have also been accused of robberies, in-person sexual abuse of minors, kidnapping, weapons violations, swatting, and murder.

Some members of the network extort children for sexual pleasure, some for power and control. Some do it merely for the kick that comes from manipulation. Others sell the explicit content produced by extortion CSAM on the dark web.

“Their main aim is to traumatize you,” says Anna, a young woman groomed and victimized by 764, one of the most notorious groups under the com umbrella. “They want to make you suffer. And for you to take your own life. They really are very sadistic people.”

The nonprofit National Center for Missing & Exploited Children received hundreds of reports of minors extorted into hurting themselves in 2023, says NCMEC’s CyberTipline director Fallon McNulty, a sharp rise over previous years. The organization, which routes reports from social media companies and the public to law enforcement, still receives dozens each month, she says.

“From 2022 into last year, especially, the scale of what’s coming through seems like it’s continuing to grow,” McNulty says, adding that in 2022 NCMEC only saw “a handful” of such extortion reports.

These online groups, she says, are responsible for “some of the most egregious online enticement reports that we’re seeing in terms of what these children are being coerced to do.”