5 Ways Young People Are Using Discord

Discord users from 12 to 23 years old describe how they use the messaging site, which has boomed during the pandemic.

Discord users from 12 to 23 years old describe how they use the messaging site, which has boomed during the pandemic.

Discord, the online messaging platform, has long been popular with gamers. In recent years, it has begun to catch on with mainstream audiences, too, fueled in part by the coronavirus pandemic.

The site is particularly popular with young adults, teenagers and almost-teenagers. Here are five ways those young people are using Discord:

School

Because Naima Mortley, a 12-year-old in Bethesda, Md., goes to an online school, Discord is her main way of interacting with classmates.

“You’re not talking in the hallways or forming friend groups — everyone is sharing emotes,” she said, referring to Discord’s custom emojis.

When she talks with her classmates and friends on Discord, “we’ll use it for homework help, or letting them know a teacher is in a meeting or if we just want to play video games together,” Naima said.

Text Messaging

Asa Mele, a 12-year-old who lives outside Boston, said he used Discord to talk with other Formula 1 racing fans and to interact with his friends and middle school classmates. Discord, he said, has largely replaced text messaging for him. He might send five texts each day, but several hundred messages on Discord.

“Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok — I don’t use any of those,” Asa said.

In a server for his classmates, students can get updates on assignments they may have missed, and collaborate on homework problems in a voice channel, which is essentially a group phone call.

Though Discord prohibits users under 13, Asa said “nobody follows that rule,” and he knows children as young as 8 on Discord.

Pandemic Community

In Gjovik, Norway, 19-year-old Henning Strandaa uses Discord to chat with other fans of his favorite Twitch streamers, like the chess grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura.

As a gamer, he was attracted to the platform because it was easier to use than Skype. But during the pandemic, he said, he started using it to connect with his high school friends. He now chats with people at his university.

“It’s not really like any social platform where you post or have a feed, like Instagram,” Mr. Strandaa said. “It is kind of like a space for talking.”

On New Year’s Eve, he said, he plans to travel to Finland to meet a friend he made on Discord.

Gaming Community

In Nicaragua, Brandon Ha, a 16-year-old who has developed an anime game on Roblox, the gaming site popular with children, runs a Discord server with over 100,000 fans of his game. He’s a big fan of the platform, and uses it to chat with the people who play his game, much like how a celebrity might occasionally interact with fans on Twitter or Instagram.

Discord, he said, got off to a bad start — at least in terms of perception — with headlines about child predators and white nationalists flocking to it. Because of that perception, though, and because of a belief among many people his age that Discord is mostly for nerdy gamers, Brandon said he and his friends at school were not open about their use of the platform. “It’s something that’s embarrassing for us,” he said.

A common insult to frequent Discord users, or to moderators who spend hours on online communities, Brandon said, is that they need to “go out, exercise, touch grass.” But one sign of its growing popularity: Some of his friends who are girls are now using Discord, he said.

Music and Dungeons & Dragons

Kyleigh Jacobs, a 23-year-old San Diego resident, uses Discord to call with her friends during their weekly musical album discussion group, and to play the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons.

Ms. Jacobs, who works at a medical devices company, had never used Discord before the pandemic and does not play video games. But she got on the platform on the advice of her friends.

“I mostly just use this for a really specific purpose, for talking to friends or playing games,” she said.

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