Are you kids using the Discord app? Are you wondering what on earth Discord is and whether it is safe for your kids to use it?
Perhaps you are one of the younger users on Discord and want some tips on how to stay safe on the Discord app on your mobile device.
Whether you have never heard of Discord before or are right in the heart of it, this article has all the advice and guidance you need to make sure you and your kids are safe when using the Discord app.
If you’re a kid yourself, you’ll discover how to level up your online safety.
Let’s swoop right in.
What is Discord?
For those not already in the know, Discord is a social media platform and a popular chat app that bills itself as a place where people with similar interests can hang out.
In reality, the overwhelming majority of content and exchanges that take place on the app are related to online gaming.
Discord has become the platform of choice for the online gaming community, where video game players, particularly those enjoying Twitch and YouTube videos go to communicate on the internet and make friends outside of the games themselves.
This happens through textual and video chats, or even those streaming and playing games via Discord itself.
Discord was only set up in 2015, yet it already boasts more than 140 million active monthly users.
Discord makes a lot of money, and its revenue is doubling year on year and with more than 300 million registered users already, this looks likely to continue.
The app allows friends to communicate via text channels (regular chat), video chat, voice chat using the microphone on their chosen device or private chat, also known as a direct message (DM).
This is a good way for friends to communicate outside of the servers, where anyone can see what they talk about.
It is built around private groups called servers that Discord users can set up around a particular focus or topic, which may or may not be gaming-related.
Then, users can define the ground rules around behaviour on their particular server and guidelines for filtering out explicit content, and so on. But this is entirely at their discretion.
The biggest server on the platform is Fortnite, which boasts 571,000 members. Minecraft is a close second, with 569,000 members. Individual users can even send and accept friend requests from other users.
However, the big question about it is – is Discord safe?
5 reasons discord is unsafe
Some readers will think that the platform doesn’t sound too different from a lot of other social media platforms that friends can access and talk to one another.
In many ways, it isn’t, but there are a number of reasons why parents might deem Discord unsafe, especially for younger users.
Indeed, the company “received 437,190 reports in the first half of 2021” by its own admission.
Here is a rundown of the top 5 most common reasons which might show you why we are forced to ask the question whether Discord is safe?
1. Moderation issues
Discord is not the easiest social media site to moderate. It is a real-time communication app and much of the content is audio or visual, so moderating and controlling the content is almost impossible.
Content moderation is also down to individual servers, which means that different groups have different standards and some are much enforced better than others, which is why it is essential to know if your child wants to join servers that don’t have strict rules.
Public servers are usually well maintained, but when it comes to any private server, there is no telling how strongly rules are enforced and how strict they are in the first place.
There is a mechanism for individuals to report content that should be moderated but this can feel like a case of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.
2. Inappropriate content
Building on the challenges of moderating the platform, there is also a significant risk of young users being exposed to inappropriate content.
Discord has become something of a haven for explicit sexual content and other adult content, malware, identity theft and other criminal activity, white supremacy, and even child pornography in some areas.
The chances of younger children seeing inappropriate language, adult content, and similar things are high.
The company has tried to clear up this aspect, especially targetting pornographic content. But it is still featured on the National Center on Sexual Exploitation 2021 Dirty Dozen list where it was called out as “a major contributor to the sexual exploitation of children”.
To their credit, the company does publish an annual Transparency Report. The most recent one revealed:
- 32.8% of participants had faced harassment.
- 11% cybercrime.
- 8.1% had been exposed to inappropriate or graphic content on the platform.
3. Predators and Grooming
As well as the risk of seeing inappropriate content, Discord can also be a platform where predators can engage with younger children.
Because Discord allows anonymous users, these predators can lie about who they are and engage with young children, whether on the server via the public chat or via a direct message, voice channels, and alike, which is something that parents need to know in order to keep their children safe.
There is little on Discord that can prevent this type of activity from happening and predators know that there are a lot of younger people on Discord.
For similar reasons to the previous section, the app can also be a haven for cyber-bullying and hate speech.
It is easy to pick on individuals and undermine them with cruel and inappropriate language.
But Discord also lets users create closed groups to exclude certain young people from conversations, which is something that parents need to know, as well.
It is also possible to share cruel memes and photos as well as written messages too.
5. Age verification
Users should be 13 years of age to sign up for a Discord account.
But in practice, there is no means of verifying the legitimacy of user age applied by the site. This means that it is perfectly possible for those younger than the right age to get a profile simply by lying about their age.
3 Reasons discord is safe
We have painted a pretty bleak picture of the Discord app so far, so here are a few clear reasons why the app is not quite as scary and dystopian as parents might fear:
1. Privacy and Safety Settings
Discord has taken some steps to address the concerns that users have raised and it offers some of the most comprehensive privacy and safety measures of any social apps.
These security measures offer users a wide range of parental controls of various aspects of Discord’s functionality.
For example, parents can control who can send direct messages and chat to their kids or add them as a friend.
There is also a Safe Direct Messaging feature that automatically scans and deletes direct messages containing explicit content (although in our experience, this service isn’t perfect by any means and it also doesn’t work outside of Direct Messages).
You can also choose who you want to be able to befriend you, block people and more.
On the privacy front, Discord lets its users decide if the app can collect and use personal data for customisation or analytics reasons too.
To customise these settings, all you have to do is:
- Select the User Settings gear icon by your username
- Click on the Privacy & Safety item.
- Customise the settings to suit your needs and preferences.
The app has a system that allows users to report any content or users that are misbehaving on the site.
This system is widely used and easy to use.
All you have to do is head to their report page and submit the details.
3. It’s not all bad
It’s so easy to dwell on the negative impacts that Discord app users can experience and miss out on the many very positive experiences that a lot of participants come away with.
Discord is a site where young individuals can meet people who share their interests and hobbies and engage with them.
Many experiences can even result in real-life friendships. While there are some predatory users, the overwhelming majority are not like that at all and there is every chance your child will come away from Discord having had a positive experience.
But it is vital that you take steps to minimize the risks and make sure that is the case.
How to keep your kids safe on Discord
We will wrap up this article with a few simple tips for you to follow to ensure that kids and young people are safe when they are using Discord.
Apart from parental controls, make sure your kids are using Discord safely in a communal area of the house where you can monitor what they are doing on the site.
2. Engage with your kids
Instead of pretending that this all goes over your head, engage with your kids.
Set up their Discord account with them and go through the privacy and safety settings together, including parental controls to ensure they know what restrictions you are placing on the site and why.
Set some boundaries for their use of Discord in terms of private servers they can access and time limits on their usage.
Set some house rules, such as not engaging with strangers on Discord, and make sure they are followed. These do not have to be anything special, just common sense media rules that your child should apply on any platform that is not kid-friendly by default.
Teach your kid or kids how to recognise inappropriate behaviour or mature content on Discord and tell them what they should do if they do encounter anything inappropriate, whether on an individual server or public channels.
Let them report content they are unhappy with. This can even be made into some sort of game.
4. Use antivirus software and a VPN
To keep your child safe from cybercrime, location tracking, and identity theft on Discord, make sure they always have up-to-date antivirus software on their device and are connected to a decent VPN to help hide their IP Address.
Discord is a social media site that does, by its own admission, have its issues. It is certainly not a place for children under 13 years of age to access, even if all they wish to do is talk about games on the internet.
But above that age, with the correct supervision and education and with full use of their privacy and safety features on the site, there is absolutely no reason why younger people shouldn’t enjoy their time on Discord safely.
Its massive recent growth means that the app isn’t going anywhere.
So it is better to take steps to keep your kids safe on the site, enjoy their games talk or video chats, than let them use it in secret and risk being exposed to some of the site’s darker characteristics.
Looking for more tips to help your teens and kids stay safe while online gaming? Our Ultimate Parent’s Guide to Video Game Safety has more actionable tips.