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What is the Discord App?

Description: The Discord App is free, and serves as the only cross-platform voice and text chat app of its kind, designed specifically for gamers. It was created to replace other video and voice chat apps by offering features that gamers love, particularly those playing massively multiplayer online games (MMO’s).

Discord allows users to create and join servers, channels, and chatrooms to interact with select groups of people based on something they have in common. Users can send direct messages to each other, which means conversations can be kept private. People and even businesses outside of the gaming community are finding this app useful and have started using it to replace apps like Zoom or Slack. 

Other attributes:

  • Users can access the app on their PC, mobile device, or gaming console (voice chat only for Xbox Series X/S and PlayStation 5).
  • In order to view content that is NSFW (not safe for work), users must confirm that they are 18 or older.
  • Discord uses an AI Chatbot, known as Clyde. We will talk more about that later!

Category: Social Networking (which should tell you what they really emphasize – communicate!)

APP Store Rating:

  • Apple: 17+ (infrequent/mild/mature suggestive themes, sexual content, profanity, etc.)
  • Google Play: Teen

Does Discord have True Parental Controls?

Yes, after being on NCOSE’s “Dirty Dozen” list for 3 years in a row… Discord has finally made some real changes. They added a brand new Family Center with Parental Controls, they specifically restricted AI generated CSAM, and much more. To see all the detailed changes, click here. Otherwise, take a look at some changes we want to highlight:

You may not post or share the following types of content, such as [sensitive language content warning]
  • Portrayals of minors engaging in sex acts, or in sexually explicit or suggestive poses
  • Sexual comments about or desires for real or fictitious minors
  • Links to websites containing material that sexualizes minors
  • Photos or videos of non-nude minors in a sexualized or fetishistic context
  • Statements expressing intent to obtain materials of child abuse or engage in child sexual abuse
  • Promotion, encouragement or normalization of pedophilia or sexual attraction to children
  • Photos, videos, or drawings of nude or sexualized minors, such as “lolicon” or “shotacon”
  • Photos, videos or illustrations of naked or sexualized anthropomorphized minors (sometimes referred to as “cub porn”)
You may not engage in the following types of behavior, such as [sensitive language content warning]
  • Send sexually explicit content to a minor
  • Ask for sexually explicit content from a minor
  • Participate in sexual conversations with a minor, including “erotic roleplay”
  • Create or moderate a server that allows sexual interactions with minors, such as a dating server
  • Create or moderate a server that gives minors access to sexually explicit content
  • Manipulate a minor in order to have a sexual interaction with them (also known as “grooming”)
  • Threaten a minor to share sexual content of themselves or engage in sexual behaviors (also known as “sextortion”)
  • Attempt to meet with a minor in real life for sexual purposes
If you are under the age of 18, you may not engage in the following types of behavior, such as [sensitive language content warning]
  • Send sexually explicit text, images, videos, or audio to another user or in a server
  • Send your own sexually explicit content (“nudes”) to another user – even if they’re also under 18
  • Ask for others to send you sexually explicit content
  • Set up or run a server for other users to date or find romantic partners – even if users aren’t planning to meet in real life
  • Participate in a dating server
  • Share or attempt to sell sexually suggestive content of yourself to other users (such as: thigh pics, feet pics, etc.)
  • Deliberately try to “bait,” trick, or entrap an adult user into sending sexual content to yourself or another underage user

Most of these new safety statements specifically mention age. Therefore, using the correct birthday is one of the most important parental control when setting up the account. Discord makes it surprisingly difficult to change your birthday by submitting a support request, which we like!

What else do Parents need to Know about Discord?

It’s now a massively popular social media app. During the pandemic, Discord exploded to over 100M members and it now classifies itself in the app store as “social media.” In the winter of 2023, Discord updated their mobile layout to feature a fully separate tab for direct messaging. The platform continues to focus on connection with others as a primary service. It’s social media!

Fun for Keeping Groups in Touch. Consider all the different circles of friends and associates each one of us has in life. Wouldn’t it be so much easier if we could all connect directly through one simple app? For gamers, this ability to speak with who they’re playing with is very important. But as we mention below, this can a slippery slope, as not all servers are safe and sometimes a Discord server contains much more than simply keeping groups in touch. 

Privacy and Limits. Users who create servers or channels are able to limit who can join or message people within their group. The default setting, however, is no verification requirement at all. Most servers typically require an invitation or request to join, much like a private group on Facebook. 

Not all Servers are Safe. In the summer of 2023, massive amounts of classified government information was leaked by the user “OG” who hosted a private Discord community. From where we see it, all of this could’ve been leaked on just about any platform, and it simply happened to be on Discord. However, the relationships that were made through video calls and voice chats may have contributed to OG trusting or wanting to share these documents. That experience of video, voice, and frequent texting all with the same people on the same server across multiple devices, phones, gaming consoles, and computers is pretty exclusive to Discord.

There are Serious Risks. Reports of abuse have skyrocketed along with the user base. A recent report from NBC News revealed how over 160 cases of child grooming, kidnapping, and sexual assault began through contact over Discord.

According to Discord’s transparency report from October – December 2022:

33,232 servers were removed from the platform, with more than half of the removals being related to Child Safety.

153,833 accounts were disabled for policy violations such as Regulated or Illegal Activities, Child Safety, and Exploitative & Unsolicited Content.

11,589 accounts were reported to NCMEC, as well as 69 additional “high-harm grooming or endangerment” reports.

Additional insights from the transparency report:

    • 36 million accounts were disabled for spamming, this was down from last quarter (50 million).
    • 37,102 accounts were disabled and 17,426 servers were removed for Child Safety violations.

Is there pornography on Discord? 

The problem is that any digital environment that promotes secrecy or privacy to its users is always going to have a lot of inappropriate content, if you’re looking for it. The new guidelines will help, but online activity is almost impossible to monitor and moderate entirely.

Users can intentionally create servers/groups in order to be private and at times, inappropriate with each other. Discord is now starting to moderate and review servers, but read this App Store quote from a parent:

“Our son was exposed to explicit sexual content, including videos, pictures, chats and video chats. There are also groups that are not gaming related and may have negative impacts on your children. Again, access to adult orientated topics. Many of the messages were from people seeking help, talking about suicide, doing drugs, cutting etc. I have no idea how old any of the other discord users are since I cannot view much detail in their profiles… I do not recommend this app for anyone who is not an adult.

Discord is a mature environment. Please proceed with caution. If your child sees horrible content on Discord or anywhere else, we have specific steps that might help: My Kid is Caught Up in Porn or Sexting. Now What?

Other Information:

GIFs, emojis, and images are easy to share. The interaction with images that could be sexual in nature would stem from the user and the user’s connections, which are able to be limited.

Discord NITRO. This is a $9.99/month ($99.99/year) subscription that gives gamers extra perks, like a unique Discord tag (identifying number), animated avatar, higher quality screen share, larger file sharing, custom animated emojis and more.

NITRO Basic. As of October 2022, Discord launched NITRO Basic, which gives users some of the same perks as the normal NITRO. However, Basic costs only $2.99 a month.

Game Streaming. Users can stream games directly to the server they are on. The feature is called ‘Go Live’ and is an extension of their video chat and screen share feature that was introduced years ago.

Server Video. This drop-in, drop-out video chat is similar to Houseparty. Users can see when others are active in the server’s voice chat room, and can simply join as well as enable their video.

Clyde. Discord’s own AI chatbot is powered by Midjourney’s image generator and OpenAI’s (ChatGPT) technology. This chatbot is super-charged with artificially intelligent language parsing capabilities. So powerful in fact, that Discord removed aspects of their privacy policy after launching Clyde, but have since added them back. While Discord has stated that “Clyde does not record, store or use any voice or video call data from users,” AI programs still rely on your data to keep improving and functioning. Clyde can do all the chatbot things such as answering questions, finding GIFs, continuing in conversations, and recommending playlists.

AutoMod. This is another AI feature within Discord, it can block content that breaks a server’s rules and can also summarize large streams of messages with “Conversation Summaries.” Discord said that OpenAI is not allowed to use Discord for data training purposes, and that Clyde can only access messages when interacted with directly. However, that guarantee was not made for AutoMod AI or the Conversation Summaries. While this sounds helpful and fun for Discord users, it could also be a major privacy concern…

Bottom Line: is Discord Safe?

It feels like a high school level app – the 17+ rating is accurate. There are always risks, especially when direct messaging options are available. Discord can be a great experience that bonds friends together, and it can also be a terrible place that’s led to kidnapping, grooming, and sexual abuse. This kind of app can foster an environment of secrets, if users are not cautious. And whether you’re 14 or 40, there’s no such thing as a good digital secret.

If appropriate security measures are not taken when creating a group chat or the person is not discerning when joining a channel, there can be privacy risks. Conversations surrounding the reason for use and the types of chat rooms being used and accessed, as well as the types of servers your child would create, should be foundational when deciding if you let your teen use this app. Please, be careful. 

What if I have more questions? How can I stay up to date?

Two actions you can take!

  1. Subscribe to our tech trends newsletter, the PYE Download. About every 3 weeks, we’ll share what’s new, what the PYE team is up to, and a message from Chris.
  2. Ask your questions in our private parent community called The Table! It’s not another Facebook group. No ads, no algorithms, no asterisks. Just honest, critical conversations and deep learning! For parents who want to “go slow” together. Become a member today!

The Table - Private Community from PYE

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