The Latest Moral Panic Focuses On Discord

from the stop-the-moral-panics dept

Techno moral panics are back in fashion, it seems. There have been multiple (misleading) stories about “kids and social media“, and then there are always attempts to dive into specific “new” services. Last fall, it was all about the kids and their TikTok challenges. But, Tiktok is so last year. So now CNN is back again, and this time the target of its moral panic is Discord. It has a whole scary article about “the dark side of Discord for teens.”

Except if you replace “Discord” with any other ways that teens talk to each other the story wouldn’t be much different. I’m reminded of earlier freakouts about instant messaging. Or the widespread moral panic in the 1980s about kids in day care. Or how about the moral panic of kids who went to raves in the 1980s and 90s. Everywhere you look, they all seem to have the same kind of pattern. This new thing is putting kids at risk and something must be done!

The CNN piece does include some harrowing stories of teens who were approached by strangers on Discord. But it makes no effort to examine how widespread this actually is, or if it’s any different or more prevalent than any other situation involving kids. Obviously it’s bad if kids are put at risk via the internet, but the solution to that is not to attack a single tool. Because if it’s not Discord it’s going to be a different app. People talk to other people. And sometimes those people are not good.

In the past people used telephones to talk to others, and I can assure you that in the olden days some adults made inappropriate phone calls to children. We should never think that’s okay, but we similarly shouldn’t blame telephones for that. We should blame the adults and hold them liable.

Indeed, the CNN piece lumps together a wide variety of “harms” as if they are all the same and can be dealt with the same way, even though that’s nonsense:

CNN Business spoke to nearly a dozen parents who shared stories about their teenagers being exposed to self-harm chats, sexually explicit content and sexual predators on the platform, including users they believed were older men seeking inappropriate pictures and videos.

Being exposed to sexual predators is an entirely different category of problem from “self-harm chats” or even “sexually explicit content.” But CNN (conveniently) lumps them all together, and focuses mostly on those predators, the most sensational aspect of the story, rather than figuring out how big of an issue it actually is.

As for “self-harm chats” that can mean a wide variety of things. Often, teenagers are exploring complicated emotions, and researching things is part of that process. As we wrote in our case study about kids and eating disorders, the research actually shows that allowing kids to read about it often helped to get them to realize they had a problem, rather than driving them towards more harm. Hiding all that content doesn’t change that. As for “sexually explicit content” — again, that can mean a lot of things, and if we’re talking about teenagers, you kind of have to expect that some of them are likely trying to understand and explore their own sexuality. That’s not to say it should be a free for all — obviously. But, both of those may be cases of teenagers being teenagers and trying to figure out who they are.

That’s quite different from being preyed upon.

Similarly, the thing that is starkly absent from the CNN piece is any sense of parental responsibility. And by that I don’t mean parental surveillance. So much of the CNN piece seems to hint that if only Discord enabled parents to constantly spy on their kids, this wouldn’t be a problem. But that’s not helpful. Kids need to learn how to handle challenging situations — in the same sense that parents should teach their kids how to have some level of street smarts for when they will be walking alone on the streets, parents need to teach their kids to be digitally smart: to know how to avoid problems online and how to respond should they come across something they shouldn’t.

But, rather than tell that story, it’s easier to write a whole scare story about how “Discord is dangerous for kids.” It’s lazy reporting and it leads to really bad overreactions by politicians and parents. CNN: do better.

Filed Under: , , ,
Companies: discord

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “The Latest Moral Panic Focuses On Discord”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

This is criticism done right, BTW.

As an FYI to all the usual trolls: This is how you criticize a “left-leaning” news outlet without resorting to whataboutism or other meaningless dreck⁠—which is to say, you focus primarily on what they did wrong in their reporting rather than focus exclusively on the perceived political bias of their reporting.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“Why are there so many helicopter parents?”

There’s a few reasons, I think. Part of it is how the media stresses unusual dangers, so many parents think their kids are in immediate danger of being the victims of violent or sex crimes even though actual figures tend to show the risks going down for many types of dangers. The other is that as advances in tech and other things have evolved, they’re less used to having no ability to keep track of things.

So, whereas a parent in the 80s might let their kids go out and get into all sorts of danger unsupervised, a modern parent is more likely to panic if they’re getting up to anything they don’t directly understand and approve.

CauseOfBSOD (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

And sadly in the end it leads to kids that are more at risk of these things, because they cannot handle risks, having been wrapped in cotton wool for so long.

The key is to letting your kids “learn the hard way” when “the hard way” does not endanger them (unless it is something like them tripping up and grazing their knee/elbow after being told not to run) and letting them learn how to manage risks.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Check your sources.

CNN Business spoke to nearly a dozen parents who shared stories about their teenagers…including users they believed were older men…

As we all know, the modern parent of teenagers is always fully-informed of things going on with their kids. They are also the most dogged of investigators, who are scrupulous about checking their facts before making possibly incorrect assertions.

ECA (profile) says:

Hate this

Its always the Kid Screaming ‘Wolf, Wolf’ and nothing is there.
And we have all seen this for so many years, its getting tiresome.
The War is over? Now they need something else to scare us? But who is at home to care for the kids? We work to hard, we need more security.

The Worst parts of this, is tracking who said it. Its in a Magazine, that got it from a think group, thats never been contacted, and no one can find an address.
Some group created a sub group to run another that posts/gives out Stupid idiocy. Anyone know about the Chamber of US commerce group?

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
John85851 (profile) says:

Sample size in reporting

“CNN Business spoke to nearly a dozen parents who shared stories about their teenagers…including users they believed were older men…”

So how many is “nearly a dozen”? Is that 11 or 10 parents?
How can we get any meaningful results from speaking to 10 parents?
And can we get any meaningful results when those “nearly a dozen parents”:
1) Agreed to share their scary stories with CNN.
2) Probably had scary stories that CNN would be interested in, in the first place.

Now let’s see a survey of 1 million random parents and ask them if their teens have had any issues with Discord. I’d bet the percentage would be less than 10%, but that doesn’t support a scary hesdlone.

CauseOfBSOD (profile) says:


This. Was DM’ed on discord by a prominent moderation bot with an invite link for a server offering nudes. Blocked said bot (later figured out that the owner of a server I had joined had set up a custom “welcome message” with the bot) and reported to Discord.

In fact, Discord staff can see these conversations if they want to (they are not E2EE, only encrypted up until they reach Discord servers, decrypted, stored, then re-encrypted and sent when other users who should receive them request them), which, according to these types of people who create moral panics is safer.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...