Discord Safety Guide: What Parents, Educators, & Students Need to Know

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October 31, 2022

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Unlock this lesson to learn what you can do to keep kids safe on Discord and other chat apps

This safety guide will help parents learn:

  • Why is chatting online with strangers so popular with students
  • Why parents should care about chatting online
  • Tips to keep student safe while using Discord and other chat apps

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This webinar is a very helpful eye-opener on the apps that are popular with my students.

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This app is listed in the SmartSocial.com Green Zone.
This app is not safe for students to use unsupervised, but a Green Zone app can serve a positive purpose to help a student to navigate social media and someday build an online brand. Read more below to find out why this app is in the Green Zone.

This app is listed in the SmartSocial.com Gray Zone.
Gray Zone apps often contain lots of private & disappearing messages, and strangers can use this to chat with students. Parents should participate in these apps with students to keep them safe. This zone can be a great place for family time since many of these apps can be entertaining, and let your students express themselves. Read more below to find out why this app is in the Gray Zone.

This app is listed in the SmartSocial.com Red Zone.
Red Zone apps often have lots of anonymous features, adult content, and easy contact with strangers. Supervision is strongly suggested on each of these apps or move your kids to a safer zone. All apps require parental supervision, these apps more than others. Read more below to find out why this app is in the Red Zone or view our list of 100+ Apps to find a safer app with your student.
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This trend is categorized as a Dangerous Social Media Challenge.
Viral challenges encourage students to do dangerous things to garner likes, views, attention, and subscribers. These challenges can be found across several social networks and may encourage students to perform dangerous activities. SmartSocial.com keeps parents updated on these social media challenges before an incident may occur in your community.

Table of Contents

Students want to chat online with their friends and with others who have similar hobbies, such as video games. The Discord app/website and many other similar platforms make those connections possible for students online, but they also create the opportunity for students to see mature topics or have contact with strangers.

In this SmartSocial resource, students, parents, and educators will learn:

1) What do students think of Discord and other live chat services?

2) Tips from students and experts for students, parents, and educators to use Discord safely

3) What is Discord/live chat and dangers to know (for parents and educators)

What students think about chatting with strangers online (video)

Educators and parents: Guide your students' reflection and discussion with this student worksheet. (Log in to your Google account and select File-->Make a Copy)

(This student-friendly video can be shown in the classroom or at home)

In this video students answer the following questions about chatting with strangers online

(Click on the three lines or a blue dot in video progress bar to skip to a chapter)

  1. Do any of your friends talk to strangers online? Do you think talking to strangers online is dangerous?
  2. Why do you think students talk to strangers on social media or in video games?
  3. Have you seen any examples of your friends meeting strangers?
  4. Do you and your friends use social media with a productive or positive intention?
  5. What are your tips to help other students use social media in a positive way?
  6. What do you wish parents understood about chatting with strangers online?
  7. How do you find balance between screen time and school, sports, volunteering, etc?
  8. How do you think parents can better work with their kids to help them find balance?

Student, parent, & educator training video

(This student-friendly video can be shown in the classroom or at home)

Students: Use this worksheet to follow along with the video

(Log in to your Google account and select File-->Make a Copy)

(Click on the three lines or a blue dot in video progress bar to skip to a chapter)

  1. Being social and hanging out on Discord
  2. Who should you "friend"?
  3. Safe direct messaging
  4. Friend request settings
  5. How to block other Discord users
  6. How to report a Discord user
  7. General tips for being safe on chat apps

Parent & Educator Content:

Psychology of Discord and other chat apps (expert video)

(This parent and educator video is best to be shown to adults)‍

What you’ll learn in this video lesson

(Click on the three lines or a blue dot in video progress bar to skip to a chapter)

  1. Tips for parents to understand the dangers
  2. Why do students want to connect with strangers?
  3. Issues some students face with strangers online
  4. Popular apps and how to monitor

Parent & educator video lesson

(This parent and educator video is best to be shown to adults)

What you’ll learn in this video lesson

(Click on the three lines or a blue dot in video progress bar to skip to a chapter)

  1. What is Discord?
  2. What is Discord rated and how to find it?
  3. Why do students want to use Discord?
  4. Predators on Discord
  5. Why parents & educators should care
  6. How can parents keep kids safe on Discord?

What is Discord?

“Discord is a place dedicated to talking and hanging out with your friends, family, and communities. Millions of diverse servers live on Discord, from small groups of your closest friends to huge communities where thousands connect over shared interests.” - Discord
Discord logo
  • Discord is an app and website that connects millions of users via voice, video, and text chats based on similar interests
  • The site is made up of different servers which are essentially chat rooms that users can either join,  create, or moderate, based on various different topics or interests
  • Users can live stream games and internet videos
  • Discord started as an app for gamers, but it has branched out to become a general use platform where users can find Discord servers covering any topic
  • Users can access the service via an internet browser, PC, mobile device, or Xbox (Source: PCGamer)
  • Discord says a user talks "upwards of 4 hours per day on the platform" (Source: Discord). 
  • Discord markets itself as “a place where everyone can be themselves,” which often encourages students to make risky decisions they might not normally make (Source: Discord Safety)

Where is Discord available?

Image from Discord

Apple App Store Rating: 17+ 

Google Play Rating: T (for Teen) 

Play online at: https://discord.com/

Developer’s Website: Discord (Based in USA, Owned by Discord Inc.)

Terms of Service

Privacy Policy

Discord Safety Center


Why do students like Discord?

  • While playing a game like Minecraft or Roblox, users can set up and share a Discord server to communicate with other players during the live gameplay, then continue to communicate (even when they aren’t playing)
Image from Discord marketing
  • Even non-gamers start discussions and servers to gather others around a topic to chat
  • Users can send videos, audio, photos, GIFs, texts, and music through the site
  • A Discord account is “pseudonymous” meaning beyond a self-reported age verification when signing up and the user’s email address or phone number, users are anonymous
  • Students like apps that their parents are generally not on, especially those that have a learning curve that adults might not have the patience to learn, especially when it’s just used to check-in on their students
  • Discord users can connect with others by:
  • ~Joining a public group called a server (there are 100,000+ public servers with topics ranging from games to studying to sexuality)
  • ~Joining a private server they were invited to through Discord or any other source outside the app (like chat in another game)
  • ~Create their own private server and invite their friends
  • ~Send and receive one-on-one private messages

What students say about chatting online with strangers

Many of my friends talk to strangers online. I think talking with strangers online could be dangerous because your intentions might be different from the stranger and it could end badly. You could be pressured into doing something you don’t want to do. Trafficking is also a thing and that’s really how it happens, by talking to strangers online. - Caleb, SmartSocial Student Intern
I think that some teenagers speak with people online because they have difficulty connecting with the people around them in real-life and they are lonely. Perhaps it could also be convenient to just text or hop onto a video call when they want to have fun. - Robyn, SmartSocial Student Intern
I have been chatting online with strangers since I was 11. It was a way for me to be treated better in middle school, as my friends were very critical at the time. Now it has evolved to being more of a way to escape into a world where people don't have connections with people I know, and it's a way for me to make meaningful connections where i can control our interaction. - Grant, SmartSocial Student Intern
I wish parents understood that just because I have never mentioned them before or just because they don't go to my school, people I talk to are not complete strangers. Although I rarely chat with strangers (especially because I have a boyfriend) I used to just want to be social. Chatting or having conversations with people who I didn't know and had never met, but had heard about from friends, was not dangerous. I know my sister struggles with my parents limiting her talking to strangers, and I know she wishes that they understood that she just wants to meet new people. - Elke, SmartSocial Student Intern

Discord in the news

Oregon man charged with sexually exploiting minor on Discord, additional victims sought
“Investigators discovered that the defendent pretended to be an Oregon teenager to convince the child to engage in sexually explicit acts during a video chat on Discord. He also recorded the video chat without the victim’s knowledge.” - The US Department of Justice
Predators contact users on [social media], acting like peers in an attempt to groom them online.  This might lead to them doctoring an image of the teen or even just soliciting a nude image or video, which the predator then trades online with other predators in social media chat groups such as... Discord, and others... It’s a form of currency… Most offenders have a specific age range they are interested in and trade those images accordingly” said the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation’s Internet Crimes Against Children unit. - Cowboy State Daily, Cheyenne, Wyoming
The dark side of Discord, your teen's favorite chat app
“In case you haven’t heard of it, there’s plenty of good, but also a lot of bad and ugly. How ugly? Like, 9/11 jokes, racist memes and kids telling each other, “Go kill yourself.” - The Wall Street Journal

Why should parents care?

Age-restricted channel on Discord
  • Like many chat apps, Discord doesn’t put out dangerous content itself, but users may target other users with harmful images and messages. If your student’s Discord discussions allow random people to join, there’s a good chance they might come across something inappropriate or malicious users
  • Most groups are limited to 10 users but there are some servers on the app that host 100,000+ members
  • Users can join and participate in public communities that anyone can follow or participate in or users can join “private spaces” that can be seen only by other members
  • ~Direct communication with strangers can exist in either type of space
  • Cyberbullying can be an issue when users belittle other users or exclude friends from group chats
  • Students can easily come across abusive language in chats
  • All age-restricted content is banned for accounts under 18 years old BUT there is no age verification process when creating a Discord account. In other words, someone can pose as a 13 year old kid, and really be 48 years old
  • Anyone can create a group chat server and some parents report that it can be easy for strangers to send private messages to students through the app
  • There are zero parental controls within Discord and although there are certain user settings that can help reduce the dangers, these settings can be easily changed back by the student
  • It can also be easy for students to send and accept friend requests and to hide private messages
  • This popular chat app is free, but in-app upgrades are available

What parents say about Discord

As with any social app or site, there is no way to prove the person your kid is chatting with is actually another teen, adult, or online predator. My daughter used the site with Minecraft and most of the discussions did not center around gameplay.
We discovered this app was on our 13-year-old daughter's phone. We were shocked to see some of the content that she was being exposed to within some of the closed server chat rooms. The scope for use by predators as a gateway and then as tool to groom children is extremely high.
I’m too upset right now to make much sense- but my child (13) has been accessing this at another parent's house “to keep in touch with friends from school”.

Common Sense Media

Discord Community Guidelines

Our Community Guidelines ensure everyone finds belonging, but not at the expense of anyone else. - Discord
  • Discord says they are working to help users clarify the difference between public and private spaces and how to appropriately use each
  • The Discord Trust & Safety team says they review reports by other users and moderators and may issue warnings, remove inappropriate content, suspend/remove accounts, and potentially report to local law enforcement. Guidelines include topics such as:
  • Respect Each Other
  • ~Covers topics like harassment, hate speech, threats of violence or harm to others, pornographic or sexually suggestive content, promotion of suicide or self-harm, depiction of excessive violence, and more
  • Be Honest
  • ~Covers misleading or false information or the distribution of content about hacking, pirated content, or stolen goods
  • Respect Discord
  • ~Covers topics such as spam and disrupting other people’s experience, promotion of illegal activities or dangerous behavior, and more

What can parents do?

Image from Discord
  • Ask your student if they have used Discord to chat with friends during online games or other activities
  • If they have used Discord, ask them what features they like and who they like chatting with
  • Ask to see your student’s Discord profile including their username and profile image (consider using a bitmoji or avatar as a profile image, not an actual selfie photo)
  • Remind your students that it is impossible to know if someone is who they say they are online and on apps like Discord
  • Download Discord and use it yourself, as a parent. Ask your student to show you how to use it so you can try it out yourself before deciding if it is safe for your family
  • Follow the recommended user settings below
  • As a family talk about how “anonymous” content can easily be shared publicly and how predators piece information together to discover your real identity
  • Assure your students that they can come to you if they see or experience anything that doesn’t seem right, or makes them  uncomfortable on Discord or other online services
  • ~Follow the Discord reporting process for any dangerous or illegal content they come across (including porn or content that glorifies or promotes self-harm)
  • Help your student make a plan for what to do if they are sent potential malicious links or files and how to know if they are suspicious

Important Privacy Settings

  • As always, use a secure password and DO NOT repeat a password you use in another account (your family can consider using a password manager like Dashlane that will create and store passwords for you)
  • ~While Discord offers two-factor authentication, students will be highly hesitant to use this extra step
Privacy setting in Discord

“Safe” direct messaging

  • From the settings menu, tap “Privacy & Safety”
  • Select “Keep me safe” for Discord to automatically scan and delete direct messages that you receive that contain explicit content
  • Turn off “Allow direct messages from server members”
  • Scroll down and turn off “Sync Contacts”
  • Turn off Discovery Permissions for “Phone Number” and “Email”

Friend request settings

  • Also consider who can send you direct messages
Friend requests from Discord
  • From the settings menu, tap “Friend Requests”
  • “Who can add you as a friend?” 
  • There are 3 choices: Everyone, Friends of Friends, Server Members
  • If you don’t want your students to get ANY friend requests, you can deselect all three options

Safety tips for adding friends:

  • On the Add Friend screen, don’t use “Find your friends,” which syncs your contacts from your phone
  • Don’t use “Nearby scan,” which gives the app permission to use Bluetooth and WiFi to find friends physically near you. This makes your location available for others to see as well

How to report behavior on Discord 

  • Quick enforcement of the Discord community guidelines is dependent on users finding the infractions, users reporting the violations, and the safety team reviewing and taking action
  • Discord requires the Message Link in a report to investigate the issue
  • If a user sees an infraction on Discord on the website:
  • ~Right click on the inappropriate message and click “Copy the Message Link” 
  • ~Click “Submit a request” at the top of the Help Center page or go to https://dis.gd/request and fill out the  form selecting Trust & Safety as the subject 
  • If a user wants to make a report from the app:
  • ~Tap and hold the message to bring up the menu
  • ~Tap “Select message” and fill in the report information
  • Blocking another user will remove them from your friends list and they will no longer be able to DM you.  Old messages will remain until you delete them, but new messages they attempt to send you will be hidden
  • Tap Friends at the bottom menu
  • Find the user and tap on their username
  • Tap the three dots in the upper right corner
  • Select “Block"

How to report a user

Trust & Safety on Discord
  • If a user continually bullies or sends you unwanted messages, or they create new accounts after you have blocked them, Discord says you may report them to the Trust & Safety team
  • From settings menu, scroll down and tap “Support”
  • It will take you to the Discord website.  Tap the three lines at the top
  • Select “Submit a request”
  • Under “What can we help you with?” select “Trust & Safety”
  • Select what type of report you want to make then fill in the description to make the report

Tips for students to chat online safely

  • Never share personal information, even if you think you are talking to someone your own age or from your school
  • ~Even if your school sports team (for example) uses Discord to keep in touch, don’t share specific details about where and when you’ll all be somewhere, especially at individual’s houses
  • ~If your group needs a way to share this information, talk with your advisors about more secure methods to communicate essential group information
  • Even though your account is “anonymous” remember that companies like Discord must always cooperate with law enforcement for any evidence of illegal activity and they often hand over a real identity to officers
  • Think about what trusted adults you feel comfortable talking with if you see something on any app that makes you feel threatened or uncomfortable
  • Set all privacy settings within the app or website that will limit who can contact you
  • Make sure that any location sharing settings are turned off
  • Turn off notifications on your phone’s settings for the app so you aren’t distracted
  • Don’t go to other apps with people you meet online

Conclusion

It’s important for parents to use Discord’s in-app security settings, but not to rely solely on them to keep your students safe. Keeping an open dialogue about what they’re doing and who they’re talking to on Discord or any app is your best bet for keeping them safe.

Additional Resources

With so many resources available and so many people wanting to help, suicide can be prevented. Check on your friends and family members often and let them know you’re there for them. Let’s work towards getting rid of the stigma of talking about mental health. 

If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call or text the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or call 911 immediately. If you’re uncomfortable talking on the phone, you can also text HOME to 741-741 to be connected to a free, trained crisis counselor on the Crisis Text Line.

Mom Talk podcast with Beth & Andrea discussing Discord


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