tristen horton

Discord as a Platform, not as a Community

The following is a letter written to the Discord Team following the (as of now) recent update on Safety. (Safety – Part 2)

The Discord Team,

I have some structured feedback regarding the latest update, its changes to the Terms of Service, the language used in the new Community Guidelines, as well as the addition of the Community Guidelines itself.

Firstly, I’m a full-time user of discord. I run a couple small communities and am apart of a few others. Secondly, I cannot, in the time that it takes for light to travel across the observable universe (93 billion years), express my gratitude for the platform that the Discord Team has worked so hard to create and mature. As a software engineer, I appreciate every last drop of sweat that has been put into creating Discord.

Because I love the platform so much, I want to see it grow even more. I believe that my following suggestions may help in that cause. The following are several of the opinions and arguments I’ve gathered since this update, and why I believe there should be a proportional revision.

Safety Stigma

Features like Block, Volume Control, Mute, and server Moderation tools exist for the same reason that the new Report button exists, they’re just different solutions to the same problem. Others and myself think that the the Report button is a welcome addition to the collection of OP buttons in Discord’s utility belt. I don’t have much of a clue of how serious punishments are, or how consistent they will be; in lieu of a history of inconsistently imposed punishments and rule-sets on Social Platforms like Twitter and Youtube, my suggestion regarding this is that the Discord Team attempt to regard punishments as consistently as possible, while hopefully allowing for second chances in the less severe cases.

Ambiguity in the Community Guidelines

Some of these new rules are written in very clear language that lacks ambiguity or vagueness, but others are not so well written. Vagueness is an issue present in other platforms’ Guidelines, like Twitter’s Safety Policies or Youtube’s Community Guidelines, and are the cause of plenty of user’s heartache on those platforms, as it is often unclear as to how they broke a rule or violated a guideline.

A couple reasons to consider the changes that follow:

I believe it is important that everyone is on the same page and that a native english speaker can read the guidelines as if it was a fact sheet, and understand it to the fullest extent. Because the Community Guidelines is referenced by the Terms of Service, and the Terms of Service is a legally binding document that an End User indirectly agrees to by using Discord, the Community Guidelines should be as legally and linguistically clear as the Terms of Service. For the following suggestions, I’ve referenced a few of the rules by a number, that number corresponds to a matching bullet point, starting from the rule about raids. So rule 3 would be “Do not share images of gore and/or animal….”.

Suggested Changes:

  • In rule 1, “raids” is not clearly defined. Please add a definitions section to this document elaborating in very clear language what a “raid” is.
  • In rule 1, “harassment” is not clearly defined – some people have very different definitions of harassment than others. Please add a definitions section to this document elaborating in very clear language what “harassment” is.
  • In rule 2, “respect” is vague. Its obvious what this word means in a contextual sense, but just like the word “harassment” – different people have different definitions of what respect is. Please add a definitions section to this document elaborating in very clear language what “respect” is.
  • In rule 4, “We believe it’s tasteless” is an unfourtunate turn of phrase as it implies that individual Communities which revolve around the topic of this rule (lolicon and shoutacon) basically cease to exist due to the differing opinions of the Discord Staff. Further below I talk about “Discord as a Platform, not a Community” – and in that section I explain why I believe that Discord should not be treated as a whole community where individual communities are far more restricted than they would be otherwise. Please take this section into heavy consideration, it affects a lot of individuals and individual communities in a negative way.
  • In rule 10, my group of friends and your group of friends must be very different. In the communities I am apart of, it is absolutely normal for members to bash on others playfully – even if they’re threats, they’re not serious. This should be a server-by-server rule, and servers should be allowed to opt out of this rule if they so choose. If an individual person in that entire community doesn’t like it, they can choose to block the people who are saying those things, or leave the server. Its their choice to stay.
  • In rule 12, “Respect” shows up here again, refer to my suggestion for rule 2 about this same word.
  • In rule 13, the words or phrases “shame,” “degrade,” and “revenge porn” should be defined far more clearly. Please append these to a definitions section in this document elaborating in very clear language what these words mean.
  • In rule 14, some members may unknowingly distribute a malicious or pirated payload to another user, thinking it was a harmless file or program. Please insert “intentionally”: “Do not intentionally distribute viruses or pirated software.”

Discord as a Platform, not a Community.

I think it’s important to properly convey that Discord itself is not a community of people. Rather, Discord is a platform with very useful tools that allow communities to come together on or be formed if not already. I think it is somewhat damaging to consider every community on Discord a single community, as different communities form for different reasons, and some or many communities have different collective opinions and ideals than what other communities or the Discord Team’s Staff may hold.

For all of the reasons listed above, I believe it is vital that the Discord Team should impose less restrictions on Communities and Users, and allow Communities more power as to what individual members of said Communities are permitted to do. At the very least, allow Communities to opt out of individual rules in the Community Guidelines. Different strokes for different folks.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read my feedback, and I hope the Discord Team will consider these changes with weight.

Tristen Horton