Discord is a free communications app initially created by online gamers as a platform for other gamers to chat together while playing.

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Written by Cyber Expert:

Yasmin London

Former Police Officer

Last modified Jan 14, 2022

Discord is a free communications app initially created by online gamers as a platform for other gamers to chat together while playing. It has since evolved to be used by communities of almost any interest, ranging from friends wanting to catch up or stay in touch to special interest groups where members can come together and feel connected with like-minded individuals. Targeted towards teens and adults, users communicate with each other via voice, video, or text. 

How is Discord downloaded and set up?

Discord can be downloaded onto Android and iOS devices, or accessed via a web browser. The app setup is relatively straightforward. Once downloaded, the user is required to provide either an email address or phone number before being invited to create their own username (real name not required) and password. The app signup requests a date of birth to determine the user's age; however, it does not verify the input. Users can tick a check box authorization to allow anyone who has their mobile number stored in their contacts to find them. Lastly, a valid phone number, verified with a six-digit code, is required to finalize the app signup.

How does Discord work?

Discord users interact either by creating a server based around a topic of interest and inviting contacts to join, or by joining an established server through a contact invitation.

Servers are virtual spaces created within Discord by individual users based on a particular interest or specific purpose. Most servers are invite-only and consist of friends and contacts who form a group or community where members connect, hang out, message, chat, listen to music, game, or catch up with others of like mind. There are also a limited number of public servers that don't require an invitation to join.

To help keep the server organized, topic categories are broadly divided into text or voice channels, then further into more specific channels relating to the topic. It is up to the server creator, and any administrators they appoint, to set up and manage the individual verification and authentication levels, special permissions, access to chats and channels, member roles, and content safety filters. Having a clear set of rules for behavior on each server is recommended but not enforced.

As Discord is a group chatting platform, not a social media platform, the content is entirely user-generated and driven by shared interests, not algorithms. The Discord community guidelines make it very clear that although they can monitor server content, they are under no obligation to do so. Consequently, any content uploaded to the server is the responsibility of the server administrators to ensure it meets the platform's protocols. 

Individual Discord users control their own safety and privacy settings, including who they interact with and how they interact, and they have the option to opt-out of electronic communication from Discord should they wish. Additionally, users can integrate Discord with several different apps and games. 

How do children of different ages typically use Discord?

Discord is an incredibly popular app amongst young people as it provides an easy way for them to connect with their peers. Upper primary school children typically use it to stream and verbally communicate with friends while gaming. They also like using the text-to-speech and audio message options for general chats.

Teenagers primarily use Discord to communicate during gaming or to chat with friends, but they also use it for research. For example, teens will often join public or large private servers to learn more about a particular game, skill, or interest, such as cryptocurrency trading.

Is Discord safe?

Keep Me Safe mode

Discord's creators aim for all users to have a positive experience on their platform; however, parents should be aware that Discord has very limited parental control features. To help protect their teen, parents should ensure that KMS (keep me safe) mode is enabled on their teen’s account. This means that Discord will automatically scan all DMs sent and filter out any inappropriate content. It is against the platform's policy to share login details with anyone (including parents). Should they wish to delete their teen's account, an email must be sent to Discord directly from the email address used to create the account, which could be problematic. 

Interacting with strangers

Because Discord permits pseudonyms, a user can have an account without disclosing their true identity. Therefore, there is a genuine possibility that users could be misrepresenting themselves, exposing teens to grooming, predators and other potential online dangers. 

Inappropriate content

The platform does have some safety features available for use by individuals and server administrators (including explicit media filters), but their implementation is entirely discretionary. The terms and conditions and community guidelines featured on Discord's website outline a stringent set of rules that prohibit, among other things, the posting of objectionable material, bullying, intimidation, and offensive behavior. They also provide security warnings and suggestions for safe usage of the platform; however, these are not immediately obvious unless sought out. There is a real potential that users may hear or view inappropriate content, particularly if their account or the server does not have safety and explicit content filters set up correctly. It is up to users to report anything on the platform that does not meet the terms and conditions or community guidelines for Discord to investigate. 

Incident reports

Discord provides a transparency report on their website covering statistics from the previous six months so parents can view the number and nature of incident reports made by users, the action rates taken, and the number of servers and accounts removed from the platform. 

Adult content

All channels featuring adult content are required to have an NSFW (not safe for work) label, and any user accessing one of these channels will be greeted with a pop-up message advising them of the adult content and asking if they are over 18 years of age. Again, a positive response is not verified.

What is the minimum age to use Discord?

Discord requires users to be 13+ or the minimum age for digital consent in the user's country (whichever is greater) to use the platform. Users aged between 13 and the age of majority in their country are required to have their legal guardian read and agree to Discord's terms and conditions. Due to the diverse nature of content that could be discovered on the app (some of which is not appropriate for young users) and safety concerns, we recommend that users be at least 16 years of age and that there be a high level of parental supervision. 

How can I make Discord safer for my teenager?

There are several things parents can do to help their teen minimize safety risks on Discord. Go through the terms and conditions and community guidelines together to help them understand exactly what is and isn't acceptable and what they should do if they ever feel unsafe. Encourage them only to accept friend requests from, and join servers with, people they know and trust. Make sure they have set up the explicit content and safety filters in their account. Utilize the operating system's parental controls on their device. 

How much does Discord cost?

The basic Discord platform is free to use. However, for extra and special server features, users can upgrade to Discord Nitro (USD99.99 per year or USD9.99 per month) or purchase ‘Server Boosting’ (costs vary).

Further reading

Parent guide to Gaming

Our experts' guide to finding a healthy balance with gaming and red flags to look out for.

Online impersonation

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How to set up a cyber safe home

Our simple ABC model is a practical and effective way to create a safe online environment for your family.

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