Can Discord clean up the internet’s criminal justice system?

A leading social platform takes a gentler (and admirable, though dangerous) approach to moderating its users.

This is not a point of pride for the US: Within five years, 76.6% of American prisoners wind up arrested all over again.

A teenage boy looks at his phone; in the background, a grid of blue Discord logos fades away in a gradient against an orange backdrop.

Norway, on the other hand, rides its model of educating and rehabilitating criminals to a 20% recidivism rate.

When it comes to handling smaller acts of internet wrongdoing — think: the spam, harassment, and slurs that torment many cyber citizens — Discord is now aiming to be more like Norway.

The social chat platform is resetting the disciplinary system for its 150m+ monthly users, per Platformer, hoping a more forgiving, nuanced approach will foster a better internet.

That’s a bold and lovely thought…

… but how’s that going to work, you may wonder?

  • It starts with an updated warning system that documents users’ violations, and educates them on how they can restore their good standing.
  • Discord will levy punishments specific to violations — e.g., if you send inappropriate messages on other platforms, you’ll often get banned; on Discord, just your messaging function will be shut off.
  • Another deviation from the norm: Except for extreme cases, the platform will forgo permanent bans, opting for one-year bans instead.
  • There’s still a zero-tolerance policy against the worst offenses — i.e., “violent extremism and content that sexualizes children,” per Discord’s blog.

Driving Discord’s logic, according to Platformer: half of its users are between ages 13 and 24. The bet is that gently curtailing impulsive teen behavior, and replacing overly punitive action with improved education, will result in healthier long-term internet citizenship.

Good freakin’ luck

It’d be great if this works. This is ambitious, and as long as Discord can keep its users safe from the very worst offenses, it’s worth trying. But:

  • This is a platform built around a gaming community that’s already developed a bad reputation — for hate speech, doxxing, and serial swatting.
  • It’s a dangerous time for Discord to appear lenient on serious user malfeasance — it’s actively trying to justify its $15B valuation.

Bottom line: This is a nice idea. But the internet’s a tough place for nice ideas.

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