- Dec 3, 2018
With the rise of “Fortnite” and other popular online multiplayer games, the Discord chat service has exploded in popularity.
If your teens play videogames, there’s a good chance they’ve found their way to the Discord chat service, or will soon.
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 free service, accessible from mobile devices and computers, allows users to talk to friends or strangers in real-time via voice, text or video chat. It made its debut four years ago as a way for people to communicate while playing videogames. With the rise of “Fortnite” and other popular online multiplayer games, it has exploded. Discord Inc. says it now has more than 250 million registered users, up from 130 million a year ago, and that 850 million messages are exchanged daily.
While the virtual hangout now has many corners, where people talk about everything from colleges to birds (yes, birds!), Discord says its biggest sector remains gaming. And that’s where racial slurs, sexist comments, politically incorrect memes and game-shaming are prevalent, users say. Anybody can create chat groups, called servers. You’re technically supposed to be at least 13 to use the service, but Discord doesn’t check age when you sign up. The official Discord servers for games such as “Fortnite” and “Call of Duty” are well-policed by the games’ makers. But most conversation takes place in private, invite-only servers, according to Discord.
“We will not go into a private server unless something is reported to us. We believe deeply that privacy is a right and something we should support as a company,” Discord’s marketing chief, Eros Resmini, said.
The users I spoke to said the gaming servers are a predominantly adolescent-male playground. User reviews in app stores and elsewhere on the web echo a similar refrain: Discord can be a great way to hang out with friends, but ugliness is often right around the corner.
Jack’s mother, Christine Naccarato, said the constant loud chatter and swearing has become so disruptive that when she wants to call her father, she has to go to her car.
“These kids are not calling, texting or Skyping each other anymore. They’re all just Discording,” she said. “The going sentence between these kids is, ‘Go kill yourself.’ I hate it.”
Many kids, like Jack, shrug off all the chatter as harmless trash talking. But for some kids, who would feel left out if they weren’t on Discord, it can be deeply troubling.
Adam Pletter, a child psychologist in Maryland, estimates that about 20% of his gamer patients say they’ve been harassed while on Discord.
“I have several patients who take the attacks on Discord very personally because they often go to school with the same kids. They may struggle socially at school during the day and the same kids are even meaner on Discord,” he said.
Dr. Pletter, who treats patients with ADHD, depression and anxiety, said kids who struggle with those issues are more susceptible to the bullying. “If you’re starting off with some vulnerability, you’re more vulnerable in life and more vulnerable on Discord,” he said.
Discord’s Mr. Resmini says parents have a responsibility to ensure their children are using Discord safely and appropriately, just as they do with any other type of internet usage.