Live More new Guides on the way! Get notified by signing up to CAST's newsletter..

Contributed by

LGBT Youth Scotland are Scotland’s national charity for LGBTQ+ young people, aged 13-25.

This Guide explains how to use Discord to help young people connect with each other. It focuses on key aspects of safety and risk management, and how to make the most of Discord features.

Steps to running an online community for young people using Discord

Organisations often want to help young people make peer-to-peer connections online. Creating an app may seem like the solution but rarely is this the case. It doesn't follow youth work best practice: meet young people where they are.

Instead you should consider using:

  • Existing social media

  • Existing chat or message programmes

  • Existing community platforms or forum software

Find out which online spaces the young people you support are already using. Then work out if that space can offer the safety and privacy that youth work services need to offer.

This Guide focuses on using Discord. See Guides to other tools in the Further Information section.

LGBT Youth Scotland started (LGBTYS) planning to use Discord in late 2019. They wanted to provide a space that could help young people who attended their youth groups stay in touch between sessions. This was most important for young people in very rural areas. They can’t get to group activities easily.

Many of the young people they support were familiar with Discord and used it with their online gaming hobbies.

LGBTYS researched the platform. They saw it was possible to create invite only servers (community spaces). This meant they could control who joined their communities. 

-Discord also had other features that help run safe peer-to peer chat threads. The steps below discuss these.

When you think about setting up an online community consider:

  • How will people join?

  • What behaviours will be acceptable in your community and how will you control this?

  • Who will moderate or administrate the community, and how much time do they have (or might they need) to support it?

  • Will it be open 24/7?

  • What do the community members want and need from the experience?

LGBTYS wanted to run an invite-only community for young people. They wanted young people to be able to:

  • get an increased sense of connection, and social interaction
  • have a greater sense of solidarity and acceptance in the world, especially if they were isolated and lonely
  • get tips from their peers about aspects of their lives.
  • chat directly with the group they also met at local sessions
  • make new friends across Scotland.

The community needed to be positive. LGBTYS knew that it would need youth workers to be available for support and to moderate when problems arose. 

Discord servers allow you to create a number of channels. These are spaces where people can send chat messages to a thread that everyone can see. The basic function of a channel is to chat. You can also configure it to add abilities to:

  • post images

  • use emoji

  • post videos

  • talk on a voice chat

  • see each other whilst talking

  • share your computer screen

You can group the channels into categories. This collects them together in the Discord screen. It also helps with the next features of roles and permissions.

When you invite someone to your server (community), you give them a role. You can give permissions to different roles. For example you can decide which categories or channels a role can see and what they can do there. For example: view only, chat and post, talk, change settings on the channel etc.

Discord users can share direct messages with each other. This isn’t something you can turn off. However young people can control who they receive messages from in their privacy settings.

LGBTYS called their community Pride and Pixels. They wanted to make it easy for young people to take part. 

When a young person joins they are given a role that connects them to their local area. This allows them to see all channels specific to their local group and public channels in the national category.

Roles allowe people to chat and share images and videos. But video and voice chat are turned off. This supports safety.

Youth workers help young people understand direct message privacy. They help the young people set their systems so that only people who are members of the same servers as them can contact them.

They also use role permissions to turn the community off when the youth worker finishes their shift at the end of the day. The worker changes the permissions for all young people's roles to 'no posting allowed'. The next worker turns them back on at the start of their shift.

You need a good onboarding process to make sure that people understand:

  • How to use Discord

  • What is expected of them when they take part in the community, including how that might be different to how they use Discord in other places.

Your process should include how to ask for help, report problems or raise a worry or concern (for example, a safeguarding issue)

You could chose to do this through:

  • Group introduction sessions

  • 1-to-1 onboarding sessions

  • Written information

  • Video guides

LGBTYS introduce young people into Pride and Pixels when they start using their services. Every young person gets a 1-to-1 induction with a worker. This can be face-to-face or online via a video call.

The worker finds out if the young person already has a Discord account and helps them create one if not. They allocate them a role and invite them to join.

They talk through the expected behaviour agreement. They focus on two important things:

  1. Why the rules are in place

  2. How to message the youth worker or moderator if they have a problem - with reassurance that it is a safe thing to do.

Finally they check the young person’s nickname for the server. (Discord allows you to have different nicknames in different servers or communities). Young people are required to include the name the workers know them by in their nickname. This is crucial for safety. They must also make sure it has no special characters in it. Many  Pride and Pixels users use screenreaders. Names with special characters in sound nonsensical and very long when a screen reader reads them out.

To keep any community going, you need positive, engaging interactions. This may happen naturally between the young people in your group. It’s more likely to be successful if you provide ongoing support.

Things you might do include:

  • Use it as a living noticeboard for arranging group activities

  • Use it as a space for youth-led planning of activities

  • Run competitions

  • Run “question of the day” to encourage posting

  • Have a way for people to make suggestions

  • Use it to share other information that might be of interest to young people.

Pride and Pixels' digital team focus most of their effort on maintaining the national category channels. Local group channels were crucial during the pandemic when face-to-face services didn’t exist. They are still available to all local groups, and used as one method of sharing information. Activity levels vary by area.

The team uses several methods to keep the national channels energised:

  • A question of the day - often icebreaker type activities such as “which 3 people would you invite to dinner, living or dead”

  • Channels that reflect the interests of the community, that workers develop to suit community needs. For example fluffy pets and reptile/arachnid pets have separate channels to avoid causing distress!

  • They don’t have any channels that cover challenging topics such as politics or religion. Instead they organise facilitated discussion times if people want to chat about challenging topics

  • They run competitions. For example creating spooky Halloween potatoes with materials found at home.

They have a suggestions box and a schedule for reviewing how the community works. For example they are currently considering:

  • Whether young people receive too many notifications

  • How to decide which third party opportunities they should promote

  • How to allow young people to opt out of seeing requests for surveys and research

  • How to decide what is an opportunity for young people and what is “asking young people to do something” (such as take part in a survey or research).

A bot is a small piece of automated functionality you can add to your Discord channels that do certain things. You can find bots that ban the use of certain words, bots that play music, and many other things.

Some bots are well established, and have teams of people working on them. These are likely to be responsive when Discord makes updates. Other bots might be made by a single developer, who may or may not be updating the code regularly.

If you use a developer to write a bespoke code for a Discord bot, you need to maintain contact with them to make updates.

LGBTYS have tried different bots. They want their server to be accessible to young people only when workers are available. Currently they manage access manually. It is a short and simple task, but one the worker has to remember.

They wanted to automate this. A developer created a bot to do this, as a pro-bono service. However when Discord updated the bot stopped working as there was no agreement about updating it.

They also use Dynobot, a well established bot with a variety of functions. For example, you can create “reaction roles'' whereby when a young person reacts to a post with a certain emoji they gain access to specific interest categories or opportunities. This gives them extra choice and control over what they see in their space.

When you sign young people up to a Discord server, you will be managing a small amount of personal information. It is probably less than the personal information you store in your main contacts system or CRM. However, you still need to treat it with care.

You also end up with a large collection of messages sent by young people. This is a type of data in itself and it may also contain further specific personal information within it.

You need to make sure you have:

  • A retention and deletion plan for young people's personal information

  • A retention and deletion plan for messages

These plans need to state how long you will keep data and how you will delete it as standard. It also needs to cover how you will delete data if someone asks you to.

You may also want information for impact measurement purposes:

  • A way of knowing how long people engage with your community

  • How often they take part in competitions or other activities

Discord have an insights tool that can help you access this information. However, it is not set up for data management, so you need to find ways around it that work for you.

LGBTYS use the following steps.

Young people use nicknames that are easy to match with their name on the LGBTYS CRM. This is useful for safeguarding. It also make it possible to manually track engagement on Discord for monitoring purposes.

They don’t use Discord’s “Clear Inactive Members” function - as it only relates to inactivity on all Discord servers. It doesn’t help workers know if the young person has visited Pride and Pixels.

Instead local youth workers take responsibility for clearing out inactive members. They do this task about every 3-6 months. Each worker scans 30-40 profiles to check their most recent activity. Local youth workers help young people who want to delete their own profile and messages.

Every two years, LGBTYS close down all their channels and open new ones. This allows them to delete all old messages. They hope that one day Discord introduce a “delete all messages older than a certain date” feature.

Further information