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Wednesday, September 28, 2022

What Teens See in Closed Online Spaces Like the Discord App

From the earliest days of the Internet in the 1980s, going online meant participating in a community. Initially, there were dial-up chat servers, email lists, and interest-based text discussion groups.

Since the early 2000s, social media platforms have merged these small spaces into larger ones, allowing people to find their own little corners of the Internet, but only with interconnection with others. This allows social networking sites to offer users new spaces they can join, whether it’s a discussion in a local area or a group with the same hobby, and sell targeted ads. But the niche small group community is making a comeback with adults, kids and teens.

When Discord was first released in 2015, many video games did not allow players to talk to each other via live voice chat while playing, or required them to pay premium prices for doing so. Discord was an app that allowed real-time voice and text chat so friends could team up to get past an obstacle or just chat while exploring the game world. People still use Discord for this, but a lot of the activity on the service these days is with the wider community, not just a couple of friends who meet up to play.

Exploring Discord is part of my exploration of how scientists, developers, and policy makers can create and maintain a healthy online space.

A little old school

Discord first came to my attention in 2017 when a friend of mine asked me to join a writer’s support group. Discord users can create their own communities, called servers, with shared links to join and a choice of whether the server is public or private.

The writer’s group server looked like an old-school chat room, but with multiple channels sharing the different conversations people had. It reminded me of the descriptions of the first online chats and forum communities where there were long conversations between people from all over the world.

People on the writers server quickly realized that several members of our community were teenagers under the age of 18. While the server owner left space for invites only, he avoided saying no to anyone who requested access. After all, this was supposed to be a supportive community for people working on writing projects. Why does he want to expel someone?

He didn’t want to kick the teens out, but was able to make some adjustments using the Discord server’s moderation system. Community members were required to enter their age, and anyone under 18 was given a special “role” that marked them as underage. This role prevented them from accessing channels we labeled as “unsafe for work” or “NSFW”. Some writers were working on explicit romance novels and didn’t want to get feedback from teenagers. And sometimes adults just wanted to have their own space.

Even though we’ve taken care to create a safe online space for teenagers, apps like Discord still come with dangers. The platform has been criticized for its lack of parental controls. The terms of service state that no one under the age of 13 should sign up for Discord, but many young people use the platform anyway.

In addition, there are people who have used Discord to organize and encourage hate speech, including neo-Nazi ideologies. Others have used the platform to distribute child pornography.

However, Discord claims that this sort of activity is illegal and unwanted on its platform, and the company routinely bans servers and users, which it says perpetuates harm.

Security options

Every Discord server I’ve joined since has had safeguards against youth and inappropriate content. Whether it’s age-restricted channels or simply refusing to allow minors to join certain servers, the Discord communities I’m a part of share a heightened concern about keeping young people safe online.

However, this does not mean that every Discord server will always be safe for its members. Parents still need to take the time to talk to their kids about what they are doing in their online spaces. Even something as innocuous as the popular children’s play environment Roblox can go bad in the right setting.

And while the servers I participated in were managed with care, not all Discord servers are regulated this way. In addition to the fact that there is no uniform regulation on the servers, account holders can lie about their age and identity when registering an account. In addition, users have new ways to behave badly or annoy others on Discord, such as spamming with loud and inappropriate sound.

But, as is the case with other modern social media platforms, there are security measures in place to help administrators keep online communities safe for young people if they want to. Server members can label the entire server as “NSFW”, going beyond individual channel labels and blocking non-essential accounts from entire communities. But if they don’t, company officials can do it themselves. When accessing Discord on an iOS device, the NSFW servers are not visible to anyone, not even accounts owned by adults. In addition, Discord runs a Moderation Academy to help train volunteer moderators who can properly handle a wide range of situations.

Discord is another way for people to gather and connect online.

Stronger Control

Unlike many other popular social networks today, Discord servers often function as closed communities that require invitations to join. There are also large open servers filled with millions of users, but Discord’s design includes content moderation tools to keep order.

For example, the server creator has tight control over who has access to what and what permissions each server member can have to send, delete, or manage messages. In addition, Discord allows community members to add automation to the server, constantly monitoring activity to ensure moderation standards are met.

With these protections, people use servers to create cohesive closed spaces, protected from chaotic public spaces like Twitter and less visible to the wider online world. This can be a positive thing, protecting the space from bullies, trolls, and spreaders of misinformation. In my own research, young people have mentioned their Discord servers as a safe private space they have online, as opposed to dirty public platforms.

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However, moving online activity to more private spaces also means these well-regulated, healthy communities are less accessible to vulnerable groups who might need them. For example, new fathers seeking social support are sometimes more likely to reach out to it through open subreddits than through Facebook groups.

Discord servers are not the first closed communities on the Internet. They are essentially the same as old-school chat rooms, private blogs, and curated mailing lists. They will have the same challenges and opportunities as previous online communities.

Self Defense Discussion

In my opinion, the solution to this particular problem is not necessarily banning certain practices or regulating internet companies. A study of youth online safety shows that government regulation designed to protect minors on social media rarely works and more often results in disenfranchisement and marginalization of youth instead.

Just as parents and caring adults teach children about how to recognize dangerous situations in the physical world, talking about healthy online interactions can help young people protect themselves in the online world. Many youth organizations and many Internet companies have Internet safety information for children of all ages.

Whenever young people jump into the next tech craze, there is inevitably a panic about how adults, companies and society may or may not keep young people safe. What is most important in these situations is to remember that talking to young people about how they use these technologies and what to do in difficult situations can be an effective way to help them avoid serious online harm.

World Nation News Desk
World Nation News Deskhttps://worldnationnews.com/
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