Discord: A Chat App Not Just For Gamers

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It annoys me so much when well-intentioned adults label certain apps as “dangerous” or “evil.” I’ve recently heard such descriptive words about a relatively new app called Discord. Like most new platforms that have come down the pike, there is nothing inherently problematic about it as the majority of participants use it in positive, productive, and prosocial ways. However, some educators and parents are making prohibitive decisions about Discord after seeing sensationalistic headlines labeling it a cesspool of abuse. This is not only bothersome and unfair, but also conveys an inability to deeply understand how certain apps may be enhancing the lives of youth.

It’s okay if you’re a bit freaked out about Discord based on what you’ve heard. We’re here to help by illuminating what you may not know. And so in case you’re wondering if your IT department should ban access to it on your school’s network, or if as a parent you are trying to decide whether to ban it, I’d like to share with you what is important to know, as well as my recommendation.

No More Discord App for Me 2

The Basics

Discord is a free VoIP (voice-over-IP) application designed primarily for gamers, and shares much of the functionality of Skype (which we know a lot of adults use). It was originally released to the public in May 2015 and as of December 2017 had 87 million users. If you’re a gamer, you know that some games allow you to connect with other gamers via text chat, while other games provide only voice chat capabilities. Other games allow full video chat, while some actually disallow all of the above. That is where Discord comes in. You can connect to the app and its network via your desktop, laptop, or mobile phone, and can chat in any way you like with others about – and during – the games you’re playing. In addition, it has robust messaging functionality so that you can message another person one-to-one, or participate in group chats with up to ten other friends.

Some of the Positives

Discord wants you to build private communities amongst your buddies and hopes to augment your gaming experience through the connection and conversation features they provide. Most kids and young adults seem to use it while playing numerous popular games like League of Legends, Overwatch, Fortnite, Battlegrounds, World of Warcraft, and Roblox. That said, there are a small number of users that connect on the platform for non-gaming activities such as stock trading, fantasy football, anime, music, and other shared interest groups. And Discord keeps improving; a relatively new feature allows for seamless switching between your webcam video and the ability to share your screen (e.g., to show others how you’re playing a game) with up to nine of your friends.

Some of the Negatives

Overall, the app itself doesn’t naturally promote harassment, hate, or other forms of harm. However – and like with any app – there are always a minority of users who engage in hostile behavior and abuse within chats, including bullying, racism, and harassment.

For example, some communities of chats have been “raided” by other communities (generally because their privacy and security weren’t fully locked down by the creator of that chat). This includes flooding them with controversial topics related to race, religion, politics, and pornography. Most disturbingly, Discord has gained a nontrivial following from members of the alt-right as it provides anonymity and privacy for communications. For example, the app was used by alt-right members to plan and organize the white nationalist rally that took place in Charlottesville in August 2017. Since that incident, Discord administrators decided to shut down any and all accounts that contained racist remarks, and it appears that their efforts have stemmed the tide of large-scale intolerance on the app.

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Child and Parent Reviews

For the most part, both parents and kids feel that Discord is a safe app to use as long as it is used only with others that you know and generally trust. If you only join private servers and chats involving your friends, you’re not going to be exposed to anything you wouldn’t hear or see in real life with those friends. If you join more public forums on the platform, you’re probably going to come across some questionable, offensive, and perhaps graphic content – much as you would when you browse the seedier corners of the Internet (or certain neighborhoods in the closest metropolis).

By way of candid feedback, one child user shared, “I use discord and it is really handy. I use discord with Roblox, I joined a public chatroom with at least 100 people on the server, I noticed a lot of swearing, inappropriate topics; pornography, bullying, sex and too many more to name. Do not join public servers and only talk with people you know and trust. If you own a server, be sure to moderate the chat and inappropriate topics. Discord also has designated “NSFW” servers for inappropriate content. In these servers, you must verify you are 18yrs or older before you join. Overall, Discord is a great app, only if you use it safely and responsibly.”

Relatedly, a parent offered the following feedback, “When my 2 children begged for Skype and such, I looked into alternative options. Discord seems to be perfect from a safety standard and my children can chat to their friends very easily. It also is ideal for them to play games together with. They’ve also set up a Discord server for their classmates and talk regularly on it. It may be new but I feel that in the future it may very well replace programs like Skype. In conclusion, I highly recommend it from a parental standard, and from a friend standard. No annoying ads, either. No need to say no to Discord.”

Discord App logo

Safety Controls on Discord

Discord is only as safe as you make it, and I feel the developers have done a good job of providing granular control over who can talk to you, and how. You can control every aspect of sending and receiving messages from others, who can add you as a friend, nsfw image safety levels, and who and what content is allowed on your server. If someone else is being a jerk to you, users are requested to block them, or simply leave the server where the problematic behavior is occurring. In addition, Discord encourage users to let them know about any activity or behavior which may be considered abusive by sending a report and screenshots to [email protected]. They state that they have a safety team working 24/7 to review what it sent in, and to take appropriate actions.

What is more, Discord offers a parental guide with step-by-step instructions on how to keep your child safe while on the app. This guide includes directions on password creation and management, customizing messaging and friend request features, how to monitor friend requests and direct messages, and how to block inappropriate content. We do encourage parents to spend a few minutes in the Privacy and Security settings with their teen, and together just make sure that everything is how you want it to be to provide for an enjoyable chatting experience.

Educational Benefits

In sum, I don’t think administrators should block access to Discord on school campuses, because it gives students a valuable online and semi-private space for socializing and connecting, and even learning. For example, increasing numbers of Discord servers are devoted to learning new languages or programming, and so there are definite educational benefits and opportunities to be had. And I don’t think parents should unilaterally block it unless their teen keeps making mistakes, and/or they keep being exposed to unsettling content or conversations that are clearly affecting them. Simply have a candid talk with your son or daughter, and ask them to level with you about how Discord makes their life better, or if it makes their life worse. Tell them you’re just trying to understand and will not freak out on them. Be a fan of them, and be a fan of their technology use, and regularly let them know that you are always there to help them when they face problematic users or objectionable content.

Image sources:

https://i.ytimg.com/vi/uuviyMaxUqI/maxresdefault.jpg

https://blog.discordapp.com/parents-guide-to-discord-c77d91793e9c

https://icdn4.digitaltrends.com/image/discord-video-chat-1200×630-c-ar1.91.jpg

https://www.reddit.com/r/tenwordsofwisdom/comments/4wvk4m/no_more_discord_for_me/?st=jcoqstlt&sh=b4314976

14 Comments

  1. Discord is unarguably useful, but I believe there are inappropriate themes hidden within the app. For instance, when you select the :poop: emoji, the S word is displayed as being related. Also, when I opened Discord for the very first time the message "now you can grab a beer" was displayed. I don't believe words or phrases like that should be permitted in an app that children use. I would not call that "kid friendly"!

    • We hear what you are saying. I know it’s not ideal. That said, our kids are often going to be exposed to these words in real life. The app isn’t marketed to children, but some children use it. The app is marketed to teens and those older, and that population is worldly enough to have experience with the words and phrases you point out. It’s up to individual parents to make determinations about what their child uses.

  2. I took my son off (14) for the second and final time. When I would check it, I would find rude and offensive language, and practically nude and vulgar pictures and videos.

    Yeah, I know there are safety guards, which we had put in place. He didn’t use wisdom in what he would look at and frankly, I don’t have time to babysit this app. So, he can’t use it.

    • Fair enough, Laura. You are his mom. I’m not here to convince you otherwise; always listen to your gut and learn about your son’s experience on each app before making decisions, as you did. Well done.

  3. I have a friend whose teenage son was lured from bad people through Discord this summer. Police located him hundreds of miles away with 5 men in a dirty trailer and also located a 15yr old missing boy from Marion County FL that was missing for a year. The men were charged with human trafficking, you can google it. Knowing that TWO young men experienced such trauma from meeting on Discored is enough for my child to NEVER be involved in such place.

  4. Discord is becoming worse and worse. They are careless about most of the things and they easily ban BUT they arent checking things like they should. They can ban innocent people without any real reasons, some internet trolls can simply report someone and boom ban. Its annoying how they dont check whole situation and dont track real discord problems. Even their posts on different media shows how careless they are

  5. I love how the fact that white supremacy groups used the app to organize the Charlottesville rally, was just casually mentioned . This was the one actual fact in the article, the rest of the article was all positive personal opinion, with random statements from random people . “The app was used by hate groups to promote violence , but Cindy from Boston says its really fun , and Jeff’s mom in Provo says she loves the app !! “ Great advertising, obviously someone is paying someone for this marketing ploy !!

    • Hi John,
      I hear what you’re saying. But we can point out isolated negative uses in the same way with every single app, gaming network, and technology that was ever created. The vast, vast majority of users use the app in neutral or even positive ways. When I did point out some negative uses of Discord, those were not throwaway sentences, or casually expressed. But I’m not going to write an entire post spotlighting those negative use cases when most users do the right thing. I’m not here to fan the flames of moral panic. I hope you understand. (BTW, we have no relationship with Discord, in any capacity).

  6. As a Discord user myself, my opinion may be partially biased, but I have some credibility after being on this app for over a year. The app is great, even after I have had my fair share of vulgar and harmful content. The app has helped me learn and is a great socializing tool, and really helps with decision-making in difficult situations like taking the mature route on eliminating the inappropriate content presented to me and multiple other users. Most internet trolls only post stuff like that because they want to get under people’s skin, so learning how to deal with it like an adult, even at a young age was helpful for me. I do strongly suggest that parents work with their child on teaching them how to stay safe on the internet, rather than completely shutting it down from lack of understanding. Like you said, this could happen on ANY app, one thing can’t be more safe than the other, so having a prejudice about one specific app for an incident that occurred there is honestly unfair. This guide was very respectable because of the non-biased opinion, and everything presented in this article was true, so I really enjoyed it. Thank you for spreading awareness of this and I hope more parents read this before having too good of or bad of an opinion regarding discord.

    • I appreciate you weighing in, Amy. I agree with your thoughts. Please tell other parents to refrain from freaking out and to try to take the time to learn WITH their youth. Also, I am working to update this blog – feel free to email me if you want to provide some more input on what you are seeing and experiencing on Discord. Thanks!

  7. I think this was a good review of discord, I have used discord for 3 years and I really like the app and use it all the time but I can really see its flaws, for example I have been harrassed repeatedly on my years on discord and when I reported them nothing happened when they were breaking multiple TOS and they continued, my server has been raided by hackers and no action has been taken. Overall I think the app itself is amazing, but the moderation needs to be drastically improved, and when you do get banned you can just make a new account! It should ban your device/IP.

    • I really appreciate you weighing in. It could be that they just don’t have the capacity to handle the number of abuse reports they get. Do you have screenshots of the TOS violations? Feel free to email them over to me and I can try to help. It’s possible they do ban IP addresses but anyone – on any site – can always just make a new account. That is one of the issues no one has solved yet.

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