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The discord with Discord: What parents need to know about the popular gamer chat

By Carrie Rogers-Whitehead, KSL.com Contributor | Posted - Dec 5th, 2018 @ 12:43pm


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SALT LAKE CITY — Discord is a popular and free chat platform for gamers. It has also fostered alt-right hate speech, abuse, racism and revenge porn.

If you're the parent of a gamer, especially a young one, here's what you need to know about the discord with Discord.

What is Discord?

Discord was originally created for gamers to chat via video and text. The platform replaced earlier gaming chat services like Teamspeak because it was easier to use.

“Discord is based on Slack,” said Jon Robinson, an information technology specialist from Utah. “It’s just a collaborating space. So people have used it a lot for gaming so they can voice chat with each other while playing.”

Though originally created for gamers, Discord has become a place for public and private conversations on a wide variety of topics — and it keeps expanding.

Discord turned three in May of this year and released some impressive numbers. The platform picked up over 10 million daily users from 2017 to 2018 with a total of 19 million daily users, according to Venture Beat.

Since it’s public release in 2015, Discord has been used frequently by gaming communities like Twitch.tv, eSports and multiplayer games. Since then, it has also expanded its capabilities and now offers screen sharing and video talk through webcams.

Why has there been so much controversy surrounding Discord?

As it becomes more and more popular, Discord has also attracted less-savory communities, most notoriously the alt-right — a political grouping mixing racism, white nationalism, anti-Semitism and populism.

Alt-right sympathizers used the anonymous chatting functions on Discord to plan the Charlottesville Unite the Right Rally and cheered when the rally turned fatal, according to a report from the New York Times.

While Discord banned any alt-right hate speech in August 2017 after the rally, any software that allows for anonymous chatting can be a place for hate speech. There have also been reports that Discord was being used to distribute revenge porn.

"The images, videos and chat logs available on Discord encompass a disturbing range, from rooms dedicated to specific women to sections that only allow 'real rape,'" among other things, The Verge reported.

In a statement, Discord spokespeople said they do not read users' private messages, but they do investigate and take action "against any reported terms of service violation by a server or user. Nonconsensual pornography warrants an instant disable on the servers whenever we identify it, as well as a permanent ban on the users."

What do parents need to know?

Discord’s recent growth has also been fueled by the extremely popular video game Fortnite, which has attracted new and younger users. The Fortnite server on Discord has over 100,000 users and, while most of that content is fine for young people, with 100,000 people in one space, there’s bound to be problems.

According to the platform’s Community Guidelines, Discord will immediately remove content and delete accounts that share “content that is directly threatening someone’s physical or financial state,” and “content with intent to shame or degrade another individual.” Discord encourages moderators and individuals to report any illegal or malicious activity.

Individuals and parents can moderate their or their children's activity by using specific parental controls. Unlike platforms like Twitter or Instagram, Discord is not a scrolling feed, and users are exposed to content through private and invite-only groups.

Discord offers controls to lessen the likelihood of exposure to inappropriate content by:

  • Allowing users to block others from direct messaging them.
  • Changing who can add you as a friend. To do so, unselect the default option “everyone.”
  • Allowing Discord to filter and automatically delete images that may have explicit and content.

Discord has a Parent's Guide to Discord with more information on how to set up those controls, as well as other advice.

“The app itself is neutral,” said Robinson. “One server could be very friendly, the next could be hardcore porn, but unless that site is advertised somewhere you will never know. It’s kind of like the old Yahoo Messenger. The app was fine, but once you started looking for rooms, there were all sorts of ones there.”

Monitoring your child and setting parental controls is your best option for safety. Another good practice is to stay in private servers, not public ones. Public forums can be huge and almost impossible to moderate.

Common Sense Media rates Discord for ages 13 and up, and while it can be a fun space for adolescents to hang out with their friends, if you're worried about what your children might be seeing, take a closer look.


Carrie Rogers-Whitehead

About the Author: Carrie Rogers-Whitehead

Carrie Rogers-Whitehead is the CEO of Digital Respons-Ability, and her company trains parents, educators and students on digital citizenship. She is also a college instructor, mother and author of the upcoming book “Digital Citizenship in Schools.”

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