Discord bans ‘anti-vaccination content’ and ‘misleading’ Covid-19 information

Discord is updating its community rules with a clause prohibiting the sharing of information it considers “false or misleading” and “which could cause physical or social harm” if action is taken. The rule can apply to a lot of information, but Covid-19 rhetoric is the main example given. The chat service does not want to be a source of “anti-vaccination content” or advice not accepted by the medical community, such as using unproven home remedies.

In short, Discord will not allow individuals to “post, promote, or organize communities around false or misleading health information that could cause harm,” Discord Platform Senior Policy Officer Alex Anderson wrote in Blog Post update explanation.

Discord defines false or misleading health information as any health information that “directly and unequivocally contradicts the most recent consensus reached by the medical community” and offers a surprising amount of detail about what is meant by this.

Below is a list of topics that Discord warns against making “false or misleading” statements:

  • the safety, side effects or efficacy of vaccines.
  • ingredients, development or approval of vaccines.
  • alternative, unapproved treatments for a disease (including claims promoting harmful forms of self-medication, as well as claims promoting avoidance of vaccines or alternatives).
  • the presence or prevalence of the disease.
  • transmission or symptoms of disease.
  • health guidelines, recommendations or prescriptions (including false statements about preventive measures and actions that may interfere with the resolution of a public health emergency).
  • availability or eligibility for medical services as well as.
  • content that implies a health conspiracy (including statements that could cause social unrest or lead to the destruction of critical infrastructure).

By itself, this list can be seen as a complete ban on expressing no confidence in any local health prescription or even recommending “alternative” conventional medicines. However, Anderson says that Discord will treat the context as intent and take no action unless it believes the messages “might cause any harm.”

“These policies are not meant to punish polarizing or conflicting viewpoints,” he writes. “We allow the sharing of personal health experiences, opinions and comments (provided that such views are factual and not harmful), bona fide discussions of medical science and research, content intended to condemn or debunk misinformation about health as well as satire and humor that are explicitly and deliberately aimed at ridiculing false or misleading health claims.”

People who hold polarized or conflicting viewpoints will probably disagree with the claim that they are not being persecuted, although it is worth mentioning that Discord users who mostly stick to small groups may not notice any change no matter what they say on the platform. When I spoke to Discord about privacy in 2019, I was told that it does not actively monitor any given server’s text and voice chat – with over 150 million monthly active users, how is that possible? Instead, moderators primarily respond to user posts which most likely come from large public servers.

I think it’s unlikely that Discord is crawling the chat logs of every 20-person server for stories related to Covid-19 vaccines and microchips, although Discord has a precedent for active moderation. In 2018 after several publications informed that the relative privacy offered by Discord turned it into a white supremacist haven, the company made a public effort to get rid of the hate group servers. Following this example, it is possible that Discord will look for and disable servers that openly advertise themselves as anti-vaccination centers if such servers exist. (If I had to guess, I would say yes.)

That new rules of discord come into effect March 28. The new rules also ban “malicious impersonation” with a note that “satire and parody are acceptable” and Discord has given itself permission to consider “relevant off-platform behavior” when exposing a user message such as “membership or association with a hate group, illegal activities, and hateful, sexual or other violent acts.”

Discord also says it will crackdown on “false, malicious or spam” messages. “If you are found to be reporting in bad faith, we may take action against your account,” the company said in a statement.

There are a number of other changes to the user manual, terms of service, and privacy policy. You can more about all here. As someone who somehow doesn’t use Discord as a soapbox for vaccine-related comments, this news mostly serves as a reminder that the conversations that take place on the platform are not completely private, even on so-called private servers. It’s a moderated social network, so if someone files a complaint, Discord mods can look at your chat logs and issue warnings, suspensions or bans. For those who want Discord-like features without joining a social network, companies like Team Speak still offer paid private VOIP servers. (At this point, I’m not too worried about ciphering the endless conversations about my D&D group’s schedule.)

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