If your child is obsessed with Fortnite, chances are they are also obsessed with DISCORD.
Here’s what parents need to know.
Described as “Skype for gamers,” Discord has become the hip way for gamers to chat about - what else? - gaming. And with 19 million daily users, it’s suddenly surging faster than Uber fares on a rainy Saturday night.
How does it work?
The Discord app - available for PCs, Macs and mobile devices - offers text messaging and voice and video chat. This allows gamers to confer live, mid-game, and has proved a boon for fans of team-based games like Fortnite Battle Royale, Overwatch and League of Legends.
The Fortnite server, for example - think of a Discord server as a specialised chatroom - displays hundreds of text and voice channels at once, as well as a member list which numbers into the hundreds of thousands.
Users can send direct messages to one other or listen in to larger group chats. Connecting with friends is easy - users can simply join an existing gaming server or send an email invitation to start a new one. The app also uses less bandwidth than comparable voice-chat apps, which is another reason for its popularity.
What are the dangers?
But that functionality also brings dangers for younger users. Profanity and abusive language are standard on many Discord gaming servers.
What’s more, many players are discussing “mature” games - think sex, violence and drugs - and these themes will often feature in conversations.
Why? Because Discord is not an app that’s aimed at kids. Although anyone over 13 - or anyone who claims to be over 13 - can download it for free, first and foremost, Discord is a social networking tool that is geared toward adults.
First and foremost, Discord is a social networking tool that is geared toward adults.
And there are other dangers too. Over its short lifespan, the app has morphed into territory that has nothing to do with gaming - including male- and white-supremacist groups, whose members can chat anonymously.
Technically, hate groups are banned by the app. In practical terms, there is little the developers can do to flush them out entirely. And as soon as one troublesome group is ejected, another inevitably springs up to take its place.
The worst example occurred only a year ago, when the platform was suddenly rife with anonymous and unsolicited child pornography. Although technically users can only only direct message each other by consent, spammers can circumvent these restrictions.
Should I be concerned?
So should you be concerned if your child is on Discord? That depends.
Under-13s have no business being on Discord, legally or otherwise. So that’s pretty straightforward.
As for older kids, they need to be aware that they can block unsuitable content using the app’s Explicit Content Filter. They can also easily mute or block individual users, and limit “adds” to friends.
Will this prevent all dangers - whether from bullying, obscenity, porn or hate speech? No, it will not.
What are my next steps?
If you’re concerned about your child’s use of Discord, your best first step is to read Discord’s and Parent’s Guide to Discord - bearing in mind that this content was prepared by the developers for the express purpose of attracting more users.
Then, talk to your child. Sit beside them while they give you a tour of the app, and encourage them to explain how they use it and why.
Help your child to set up the Explicit Content Filter, and review privacy precautions recommended by the app’s developers.
And most importantly, use parental controls to maintain balance in your child’s online activity. Gaming has a place in the life of our digital kids - but when it starts to take over, it’s time to take action.