Discord is a voice, video, and text communication service used by over a hundred million people to hang out and talk with their friends and communities . The communities are primarily built on virtual groups, called “servers”. A server is a collection of two types of channels: chat rooms and voice calls. A server runs on a theme and attracts users with interests to said themes. Each server can house multiple channels that are designated by hash-tagged keywords. Each channel can have a different purpose or set of permitted users. Users can join several servers from one account and then send direct messages (DMs) to other users within those channels featuring text, voice, photo, or video messages . As of 2022 , the service is now valued at $15 billion and has over 150 million monthly active users with 19 million active servers . Discord also poses serious ethical implications regarding cyberbullying, anonymity, doxxing, and issues revolving around not safe for work (nsfw) content and pornography.
- 1 History
- 2 Usage
- 3 Features
- 4 Ethical Implications
- 5 See also
- 6 References
Founders Jason Citron (CEO) and Stan Vishnevskiy (CTO) cite the connections they formed during childhood playing video games as the inspiration for creating Discord. Dedicated to the idea of creating a service that encouraged talking, helped form memories, and recreated the feeling of togetherness found through gaming, the two founders took it upon themselves to create a platform that made this obtainable for others. The application was brought to life in 2015 with the goal of solving how to communicate with friends around the world while playing games online. Additionally, Discord was created to help make it easier for users to participate in conversation, hopping around text, voice, and video to talk. As of January 2022, the social platform has 150 million monthly active users, 19 million active servers per week, and 4 billion server conversation minutes daily .
When gaming became more connective and interactive with others, gamers realized that they wanted to talk to their gaming friends even when they weren't in a game, and they wanted to talk about things other than games. Originally created for the gaming community, Discord has grown into a platform that has become quite popular for the gaming community. Users have access to create private servers for just them and their friends, while also being able to explore public servers to find new communities and gaming friends .
For many students, going to college is about the social aspect of a college community as much as it is about earning an education. As the COVID-19 pandemic began and educational spaces transformed, building community became harder for College Possible students. Although Discord was originally an online gaming platform, during the pandemic, its uses have diversified . In 2020, the social platform hit 140 million monthly users, twice as many as those who used it in 2019. With schools remote, people inside, and video game and streaming hugely popular, Discord has become a new place for community, collaboration, and education .
Over 200 colleges and universities are currently on Discord serving as a means for students to connect together, chat, game, and participate in campus events and activities. With server capacity reaching far into the thousands, Discord servers are providing students the opportunity to connect with others and their community on a larger scale. Additionally, the roles and moderation tools that Discord provides allows for the connections of peers in a safe and academically centered space .
Additionally, the platform has also created the Discord Student Hub for students to meet other classmates from their school.Hubs are not officially affiliated with or managed by schools, but are a collection of student-run servers. The Hub’s function is to make it easier for classmates to find and join one another’s servers if they choose to do so. Upon joining a hub, students will be able to find other classmates that have joined, add their servers to the hub, and find their classmates' servers, all in one place. Each hub is only accessible to students with an email address associated with their school .
Business and work environments need the best virtual collaboration tools to get things done and stay on track, and some industries are beginning to turn to Discord as a legitimate business tool. The platform provides business users access to many of its features for free and the ability to integrate software bots to help fill in any gaps between what Discord offers and what may be offered in a physical office environment. With its ability to sync clear audio between users, this provides business users the ability to collaborate in timely manner with no delays or lag issues during Discord group meetings .
Discord communities are organized into discrete collections of channels called servers. Users can create servers for free, manage their public visibility, and create voice channels, text channels, and categories to sort the channels into. Starting October 2017, Discord allowed game developers and publishers to verify their servers. Verified servers are moderated by its developers’ or publishers' moderation team. Members can help servers obtain perks in three levels via the "Server Boost" feature, which unlocks higher quality voice channels, more emoji slots, and other perks  . In 2020, Discord unveiled a new feature, known as "Community servers". It includes such features like a custom welcome screen, server insights, and the ability to advertise on Discord's Server Discovery page . While users can explore public servers within the Discord application, some websites can be found online that may help expand a users search in finding a server that aligns perfectly with their views and interests.
Channels may be either used for voice chat and streaming or for instant messaging and file sharing. The visibility and access to channels can be customized to limit access from certain users, for example, marking a channel "NSFW" (Not Safe For Work) requires that first-time viewers confirm they are over 18 years old and willing to see such content . Discord channels can be organized and presented in ways that provide server members a meaningful experience. Channel names are able to be fully customized to represent member interests and promote engaging conversations based upon the channel topic. For example, important server information can be organized into channels at the top of a server for quick and easy user access.
Direct messages (DMs) in Discord allow users to send messages, share files, live stream their screen, and call others privately outside of servers. An added feature in Discord direct messages is the ability to create message groups of up to 10 users. This acts similar to a server's text channel, with the ability to initiate a call simultaneously for all the members in a direct message group . Before messages can be sent to friends, users must have them added to their friends list first .
To keep a user’s direct messages clean and to assist in preventing any unwarranted surprises at bay, Discord provides users a few options for additional safety. In settings, under the Privacy & Safety option, users can access the "Safe Direct Messaging" which provides 3 levels of added safety. The first option, “keep me safe” is the safest option. This will have Discord scan any image sent in all direct messages, regardless of whether you've added the user on your friend list, or the user is DMing you just by sharing a mutual server. The second option, “my friends are nice” lets Discord know to scan any images sent in DMs from users that aren't on your friends list, but also to trust your previously-added friends and not worry about any images they send. The third option, “do not scan” completely disables Discord's image scanning process, and leaves users with the full access to messages of all types .
Video Calls & Live Streaming
Video calling and screen sharing were added in October 2017, allowing users to create private video calls with up to 10 users , which was later increased to 50 in March 2020 due to the increased popularity of video calling during the COVID-19 pandemic. Going live and screen sharing allows users to screen share any application window, or their entire screen in a server or voice call. Streamers are also provided the ability to voice chat and interact with others watching their stream, as well as being able to switch their screens during streaming through a “change windows” button that is found in their status bar. Once a user has joined a voice channel and accesses a live stream, they can then change the size and location of the viewing window and adjust the stream’s audio from the volume icon while hovering over the stream .
Profiles are customizable to allow users the ability to express themselves in ways that they feel represents them best. Like most other social platforms, users are able to add a profile photo and personalized bio to their accounts. One of the main profile features that users interact with is custom statuses. This allows users the capability of letting others know what they are up to. Statuses can be displayed with emojis and are able to be set to clear automatically after so many hours, or never be cleared at all. Note: Custom status override other status activities that a user may have synced up to their account, this includes activities such as playing a game or listening to Spotify . Users also have the ability to customize and display their availability status to others through the options: Online, Idle, Do Not Disturb (users will not receive any desktop notifications), and Invisible (Users will not appear online, but will have full access to all of Discord) .
Discord has two membership programs offered to users that upgrades their account from the free version and adds additional features .
Set at $5.99 USD per month, Discord Classic member accounts will be upgraded to include the following perks :
- Users can upload moving GIFs as their profile pictures which can be seen in text channels and friend's servers.
- Users can customize their four digit tag (e.g. #0001). Note, that at the end of the membership subscription, a user’s tag will randomize.
- While normally, custom emotes can only be used in the server that they've been uploaded to, Discord Classic expands emoji access to every server and direct message.
- Screen share abilities are upgraded to 720p - 60fps or 1080p - 30fps. Users will also get enhanced stream quality (1080p - 60fps) when they go live.
- User file uploading cap is increased from 8mb to 50mb.
Set at $9.99 USD per month, users will be provided access to all of the following perks that are provided with a Discord Classic membership, but with a few additional features. Upon purchasing access to Nitro, users will be given a badge that will automatically be displayed on their user profile .
- Increased user uploading ability to 100MB for file and video uploads.
- Greater high resolution quality video.
- Two server boosts: Used to support servers and communities, each server boost provides added features to a server (e.g. increase emoji limit).
- Increased the character cap for each messages from 2000 to 4000.
- User server limit is raised from 100 to 200.
- Global use of custom stickers, that can be used cross-server and within direct messages.
- Server avatars can be personalized beyond a server nickname. Different profile photos can be set in each user server.
Cyberbullying, a modern form of bullying performed using electronic forms of contact, has been considered as being worse than traditional bullying in its consequences for the victim. This difference has been attributed to aspects like: an increased potential for a large audience, an increased potential for anonymous bullying, lower levels of direct feedback, decreased time and space limits, and lower levels of supervision .
Cyberbullying includes sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else. It can include sharing personal or private information about someone else causing embarrassment or humiliation. Some cyberbullying crosses the line into unlawful or criminal behavior. The content an individual shares online – both their personal content as well as any negative, mean, or hurtful content – creates a kind of permanent public record of their views, activities, and behavior. This public record can be thought of as an online reputation, which may be accessible to schools, employers, colleges, clubs, and others who may be researching an individual now or in the future. Cyberbullying can harm the online reputations of everyone involved – not just the person being bullied, but those doing the bullying or participating in it. . Some examples of cyberbullying that are notable on Discord include general harassment, server raids, flaming, and trolling.
Anonymity describes situations where the acting person's identity is unknown. The important idea here is that a person be non-identifiable, unreachable, or untrackable. Though Internet anonymity can provide a harmful environment through which people can hurt others, anonymity can allow for a much safer and relaxed internet experience .
Anonymity has also been considered one of the constructs that differentiate traditional bullying from cyberbullying . Although the use of anonymity provides users the ability to freely express themselves and identify as their true self, it also provides select users the opportunity to inflict harm on others without consequences.
Hate speech is any form of expression through which speakers intend to vilify, humiliate, or incite hatred against a group or a class of persons on the basis of race, religion, skin color sexual identity, gender identity, ethnicity, disability, or national origin. In the United States, hate speech is protected by the First Amendment. Courts extend this protection on the grounds that the First Amendment requires the government to strictly protect robust debate on matters of public concern even when such debate devolves into distasteful, offensive, or hateful speech that causes others to feel grief, anger, or fear .
For example, on the night of September 2, 2021, three unknown individuals joined the University of Utah’s Muslim Student Association Discord channel and began using racist language and sharing racist memes and images in an attempt to “troll” the channel and its members. The language included slurs against the Black Community, Jewish Community and Muslim community .
Anonymity, a key affordance of the early internet, is an element that many in this canvassing attributed to enabling bad behavior and facilitating “uncivil discourse” in shared online spaces. The purging of user anonymity is seen as possibly leading to a more inclusive online environment, but by removing anonymity, those who rely on it for a sense of protection and true identity may be harmed. Additionally, removal of anonymity in online environments also sets a stage for governments and dominant institutions to even more freely employ surveillance tools to monitor citizens, suppress free speech, and shape social debate .
Doxxing refers to gathering an individual’s Personally Identifiable Information (PII) and disclosing or posting it publicly, usually for malicious purposes such as public humiliation, stalking, identity theft, or targeting an individual for harassment. Doxxers may then compile information from multiple public-facing sources to reveal sensitive information about the victim, such as the victim’s home address, family members, photos, workplace, and information about the individual’s habits, hobbies, or interests . Technically, doxxing is not illegal as long as the information is of public record. But, doxxers use the internet to find public information about a target and compile it with the intent of "exposing" someone or just for pure retaliation. But if doxxing leads to death threats or threats of physical violence on the target's self or property, it can be illegal depending on where you live .
Not Safe For Work (NSFW) Content
To help keep NSFW content in a dedicated spot that's clearly labeled, Discord has a channel setting that allows users to designate a text channel as NSFW . While having a dedicated place for user NSFW content is ok by Discord standards, material such as child pornography is not appropriate anywhere in Discord. Adult content on Discord should only be accessible to those over 18 years old, and must be labelled properly to avoid anyone stumbling upon it inadvertently . Users are provided the ability to not partake and view NSFW channels. Before being able to view the content within the channel, users are asked if they are 18+ and want to proceed. Additionally, while these channels may provide content that can potentially lead to the sexual exploitation and harassment of others, some users may choose to use these channels for personal entertainment or as an alternative platform to perform or display sex work.
Intimate Image Abuse
Revenge porn, sometimes known as ‘intimate image abuse’, is the practice of uploading online explicit images – specifically photos and videos – of ex-partners (or even current partners) without their consent. The images are generally taken during an intimate relationship. Images are sometimes accompanied by personal details such as the victim’s address and phone number–doxxing. Those who post revenge porn do so mainly to ‘get back’ at having been rejected or what they consider to be some other kind of injustice. Although there is no hard and fast rule, the majority of perpetrators are male and most victims are young females. On some occasions, it is used for blackmail, with the threat that images will be posted – or if they are already online not removed – until a sum of money is paid or the victim agrees to resume the relationship .
Although Discord was originally designed for video game users to chat with each other while playing online games, the app has gained popularity even outside of the gamer community, with over 30% of users claiming they use Discord for activities other than gaming  . Discord has capitalized on this expansion of their brand, advertising Discord as a way for people of all types to interact and engage with one another. With the expansion of Discord’s brand to include more than just gamers, the platform has opened its doors to predators and abusers and is allowing them to settle comfortably within Discord’s servers. These abusers or traffickers know minors are on Discord, and utilize the platform to engage with minor users through mutual servers and direct messaging. Groomers use a variety of tactics to gain the victim’s trust, including using pornography as a tool to manipulate the child into believing the sexual abuse is normal  .
Part of the grooming process is the normalization of sexual activity with children and breaking down inhibitions. Offenders use child pornography to teach children how to masturbate, perform oral sex and engage in sexual intercourse. Sometimes, blackmail is also involved, usually at the later stage, after the child has been exposed to some sort of pornography, or after the child has performed sexual favors. The saturation of the Internet with such material may serve to "normalize" this behavior and probably makes it easier to objectify children as sexual artifacts .
Pornography trading has also become popular on the platform, where users can share links and images of themselves and others. Entire servers have been made that were dedicated to finding and sharing non-consensual sexual images of girls and women—sometimes known as revenge porn  . Discord made international news in 2020 when one server revealed over 140,000 images of women and even minors had been widely shared and distributed .
- Anonymous Behavior in Virtual Environments
- Anonymous Online Presence and Harassment
- Online Identity
- Social Networking