Digital gamesWhat parents need to know about Discord

Discord is an online service that was originally developed for the needs of the video game community. Through Discord, people can network, chat, and talk while playing video games together online. Discord is still a platform that is especially popular in the video game scene, but is increasingly being used beyond that.

What is Discord?

After registering for free, users have many networking options on Discord. The platform is divided into different "servers". They function like topic-based chat rooms. Discord has official chat rooms for many games that are popular with children and young people. For example, for Fortnite, Minecraft or Roblox. As a rule, between 100,000 and 200,000 users are active there at the same time.

Discord is not limited to gaming, but also offers chat rooms for music, learning, science & and entertainment. In addition, all users can also create their own servers. You can either set these up publicly or only grant access to your friends. If you receive an invitation to a private server from other users, you can accept this invitation and join it. In chat rooms, you can communicate with each other via text, voice or video chat. Pictures and videos can also be posted and the screen shared.

Discord is available for all major operating systems. One can use Discord on mobile devices, on the PC and on some video game consoles. All the major features are available in the free basic version of the app. However, one can buy paid additional features. These are, for example, other emojis or animated profile pictures.

Although it looks colorful and youthful, Discord is not designed for safe use by children and teenagers. Parents who allow their children to use Discord should prepare it well. For example, they should be sure to set the security settings together with their children and discuss clear rules of conduct. Suggestions for this can be found below under "Tips for parents".

Risks of app use at a glance:

  • No effective control of the minimum age
  • Content harmful to minors (e.g. pornography)
  • Cybergrooming (initiation of contact by strangers)
  • Many offers to buy or sell game content
  • Insufficient reporting options in the event of harassment

Tips for parents

If you want to allow your child to use Discord, here's what you should do:

  • Set up the Discord account together with your child. You should pay particular attention to the settings in the "Privacy & Security" section to prevent your child from being contacted by strangers.
  • Set clear rules for use, for example, do not accept invitations or gifts from strangers. No dating to buy or sell game content. Do not disclose private details.
  • To prevent your child from accessing pornographic content, a server with such content must be visited once. At the first attempt to join this server, the age will be requested and also saved for subsequent access attempts. Enter the correct date of birth here.
  • Keep in touch with your child about what he or she is experiencing on the platform and signal that you are available if there are any problems.

The risks of Discord in detail

Age restriction

According to the general terms and conditions (GTC), registration on Discord is only permitted for users over the age of 16, but there is no reliable age check. Users between the ages of 16 and 18 must have their legal guardians agree to the terms of use. Here, too, there is no verification.

In-app purchases and trading

Discord offers the option to link a credit card or PayPal to the user profile. This can be used to pay for a subscription to upgrade your user profile with additional features. This membership can also be purchased and then given as a gift. People who are looking for contact with children can use these gifts to ingratiate themselves with their victims and make themselves popular.

Although nothing can be bought on Discord apart from the membership at present, the platform is nevertheless characterized by so-called "trading". Many of the games popular with children, such as Fortnite or Roblox, offer special items or skills in the game world that can be passed on to other players. As a gift, but also as a barter or sale for money. On Discord you can find many of these offers to "trade". Even if the payment or the exchange does not take place on Discord itself, the necessary arrangements are made here. Caution: These offers can be scams that children and young people may not be able to assess properly.

Contact by strangers

Especially on platforms that are known to be used by children as well, this can Cybergrooming occur. Discord allows other users to write private messages. Contacting people you don't know can be prevented through the security settings in your profile. Here you can set that you only want to receive messages from people in your own friend list. You can also prevent yourself from being added to other friend lists. These settings must be made manually after logging in. The basic settings are insecure.

Inadequate reporting system

It is possible to contact Discord's Trust & Safety team in case of harassment, bullying or other inappropriate behavior. However, the barriers to making such a report are so high that it is unlikely that children or young people will be able to go through this process easily on their own. Discord provides a Instructions for the cumbersome reporting process help section. Once you have gathered all the necessary data, you can submit your complaint via a form.

Difficulties arise in cases of audio or video chat harassment, or textual harassment, but subsequently deleted by the perpetrator. In these cases, it is possible to file a complaint, but it may be inconsequential due to the lack of evidence.

Pornographic content and content harmful to minors

Discord also allows pornographic content on its platform. However, these chat rooms must be marked with the abbreviation "NSFW" (Not Safe For Work). Before entering for the first time, you will be asked to enter your date of birth once. If you are under 18 and give the correct date of birth, you will not get access. However, it is not checked whether the correct or incorrect date of birth is given.

Apart from pornographic content, there are also other images and text messages on Discord that are harmful to minors. Random checks revealed content glorifying violence, racism and conspiracy ideology.