A Parent’s Guide to Discord
Many young people use Discord to meet like-minded peers and talk to friends online. But is Discord safe? Parents have reported predators and cyberbullies pursuing their children on Discord. At the Social Media Victims Law Center, we’re committed to uncovering the truth about incidents on Discord and similar apps. We help victims and their families pursue the compensation they need to move on with their lives.
What You’ll Learn
- What is Discord?
- How old do you have to be to use Discord?
- Does Discord verify users’ ages?
- What are Discord servers?
- How does Discord chat work?
- Is Discord safe for kids?
- Does Discord have privacy settings?
- Does Discord have parental controls?
- Lawsuits against Discord
- What to do if your child was harmed on Discord
Discord is a popular app where users chat with online and offline friends. Social media sites, such as Discord, facilitate important social interactions in many younger peoples’ lives, but is Discord safe?
Here’s what parents should know about Discord and how the Social Media Victims Law Center can help Seattle and San Francisco families if something has gone wrong.
What is Discord?
Discord is a free mobile and desktop app for connecting and chatting with other users. It initially hit the market as a service for online gamers, making it easier for them to communicate while playing. Unlike other tools available at the time, Discord allowed players to socialize without draining the game’s processing capacity.
Since then, Discord has expanded far beyond the gaming community. It has 150 million monthly active users, most of whom use the app to build connections around shared social groups and hobbies. In addition, it has become the go-to platform for many niche communities, thanks to its flexibility and relative privacy.
Much like a Skype chat room, Discord lets users communicate through invitation-only communities, functioning around closed group servers. There is no public news feed, and posts are only visible to server members.
Discord offers three ways to chat: text, voice, and video. Users can message each other directly or chat in-server on voice or text channels. Individual users can enable or disable their video in voice calls.
How old do you have to be to use Discord?
According to Discord’s terms of service, only users 13 and up may access the app in the United States. Discord’s age requirements vary for international users.
Some Discord servers and channels contain age-restricted content. Users can only view this content if they are 18 or older.
Does Discord verify users’ ages?
Discord works on the honor system and does nothing to verify a user’s age. Every user must enter their birthdate when creating an account, but like other social media sites, Discord doesn’t require any documentation to prove their age.
When you accept the app’s terms and conditions and log on for the first time, you confirm that the information you entered is accurate. However, here is no parental permission function for users under 18. Discord considers this the parent’s responsibility to ensure their child enters the correct birth date.
What are Discord servers?
A server is a self-contained community on Discord. Most servers focus on a particular topic, such as a specific recording artist or video game.
Discord servers are private by default, but administrators of those with at least 1,000 members can choose to enable Server Discovery. Enabling this feature lets users find a server through the app’s Discovery Search feature.
Discovery Search is the only way to find a server without a link. Searchable communities are some of the largest on Discord and may have thousands of members.
Discord also recently introduced Student Hubs. These student-run and school-specific groups are searchable only to users with school-issued email addresses.
Users can only access a server via a private invitation link if it is not discoverable. However, strangers can access the group if someone posts the link to their social media account or another public platform.
Any Discord user can create a server, and users can create as many servers as they would like. People of all ages start Discord servers for friend groups, clubs, or sports teams.
Each Discord server contains one or more channels. Server owners designate each channel for text or voice, but you cannot mix the two. Video calls are also available through voice channels.
How does Discord chat work?
Discord lets you chat within a server or send direct messages to other users. Direct messages can be one-on-one or group messages for up to 10 users. As with server chats, direct messages can use voice, video, or text.
Discord’s settings allow users to receive direct messages from anyone in shared servers by default. Settings that govern direct messages in each server are changeable. Therefore, users can block direct messages from people not on their friends list. Users can also tailor their friends list settings to receive requests from everyone, friends of friends, or server members, according to which settings they choose.
Is Discord safe for kids?
Given Discord’s status as such a large community or younger people with no age verification, the app is ripe for abuse by criminals and other wrongdoers.
Every Discord server has a moderator, or “mod,” to oversee server activity. Moderators have the freedom to set and enforce rules for their servers. Many servers have active mods who take action against rude or inappropriate content. Unfortunately, other mods are less active, leaving users vulnerable to harmful content.
No particular server type is more or less likely to be safe. Safety depends on who runs the server and how well they monitor the app’s use.
Non-discoverable servers are private, which makes Discord a bit safer than other platforms, such as Omegle. However, it’s easy for invitation links to make their way onto more public platforms. When that happens, nearly anyone can infiltrate a server.
Here are just a few of the problems that have come up.
Cyberbullying and Harassment on Discord
Cyberbulllying and online harassment involves the use of electronic communication to torment, intimidate, threaten, or humiliate someone. In 2021, Discord issued a transparency report naming harassment as the app’s most commonly reported harmful behavior. This harassment can quickly escalate to bullying, severely damaging a child’s mental health.
Discord allows users or parents to report cyberbullying and other forms of harassment. Still, these incidents are often difficult to verify, especially when the consequences happen off-platform or elsewhere in the child’s social world. As a result, many children become trapped, not knowing where to find help.
Buying and Selling Illegal Drugs
According to a study published in “Contemporary Drug Problems,” drug sellers have created Discord servers to expand their markets. These servers allow sellers to find customers beyond their local markets.
Many of these servers are intentionally large and easy to find. There, young users can buy or sell drugs without their parent’s knowledge.
Pornography and Sexual Exploitation
Discord does not have any restrictions on posting explicit material. While such content is limited to age-restricted servers, underage people can get access since there is no age-verification process. Therefore, children could find such material if they know where to look or are lured into an explicit server.
In addition, the platform provides direct messaging, putting users at risk for receiving explicit or inappropriate messages from other users.
Meanwhile, exploitative content has become a significant target for Discord’s trust and safety team, mainly due to the prevalence of such content. Discord defines exploitative content as potentially damaging sexually explicit material.
According to the 2021 transparency report, the team removed over 238,000 exploitative or potentially exploitative accounts in the first half of 2021.
Even with the increased surveillance, however, predators break through the safeguards. In 2022, multiple parents told CNN about older men having inappropriate interactions with minor children. One girl was only 10 when she began receiving pornographic links from an adult male.
That parent sent documentation of the incident to Discord’s trust and safety team but received no response.
Child Predators on Discord
In its transparency statement, Discord’s trust and safety team reports being toughest on content that could harm children. That includes self-harm content and child sexual abuse material.
Because no age verification exists, many children under 13 sign up for Discord accounts, often with parental consent. But those parents do not consent to predatory behavior, and Discord can be slow to shut it down. This delay leaves children vulnerable to sextortion and other crimes.
In the 2022 CNN report, one parent described Discord taking six weeks to close her daughter’s account. This happened after a predator convinced the 16-year-old girl to send nude photos and pictures of her home and school bus.
If parents are unaware of these exchanges with predators, the situation can quickly escalate to sexual abuse.
Does Discord have privacy settings?
If you are a Discord user, you can enable the following privacy settings:
- Deactivate DMs from server members who are not on your friends-list.
- Block a specific person, making Discord hide their friend requests, direct messages, and posts in shared servers.
- Limit who can send you friend requests by disabling the “everyone,” “friends of friends,” or “server members” options.
Check your child’s profile and help them choose suitable options for their safety.
Does Discord have parental controls?
There are no Discord parental controls, but the site does have safety settings available to all users.
One such setting is the “scan direct messaging” option, which instructs Discord to scan and delete all messages with potentially inappropriate content. That includes violent or graphic content as well as sexual materials.
There are three scan options, which are:
- Keep me safe: Scan messages from everyone
- My friends are nice: Scan direct messages from non-friends
- Do not scan: Do not exclude explicit content
Parents can also report suspicious activity, but Discord has not always taken appropriate action.
Lawsuits Against Discord
The Social Media Victims Law Center has filed a lawsuit against Discord and Roblox on behalf of a pre-teen girl who was a victim of exploitation. At age 11, the child attempted suicide multiple times becasue of her addiction to Discord and sexual exploitation she was exposed to on the app.
The exploitation began on Roblox, a gaming platform popular among pre-teens. There, she became the victim of online grooming at the hands of an older male. The man enticed her to move the conversation to Discord, where multiple men exploited her.
She had the “keep me safe” option turned on, but it missed the inappropriate content she received.
What to do if your child was harmed on Discord
The Social Media Victims Law Center is committed to seeking justice for the harmful effects of social media, from depression to sexual violence to suicide.
Matthew P. Bergman