Permitting the discussion of sensitive topics on your server can allow users to feel more at home and engage with their trusted peers on topics they may not feel comfortable discussing with others. This can encompass subjects like politics, mental health, or maybe even their own personal struggles. Having dedicated channels can keep these topics as opt-in and in a dedicated space so that people who do not want to see this content can avoid it. This can also allow you to role gate the channel, making it opt-in, level gated, activity gated, by request only, or some other requirement to keep trolls or irresponsible users out.
Establishing channels dedicated to sensitive topics can also be an exhausting drain on your moderation team and can invite unwanted content into your server. These channels can quickly get out of hand if they are not set up mindfully and moderated carefully and will often require their own sets of rules and permissions to be run effectively and safely. Whether you want these discussions to occur in your space at all is up to you and your team. Having channels for these topics takes a lot of work and special consideration for you to determine if it’s the right fit for your server.
In short: This document will serve to educate you on how best to discern if you want these different channels, whether it be a channel on venting, serious-topics, or a real world event. Keep in mind- no matter what topics (if any) that you decide to include in your server, remember that all content needs to be within Discord’s Terms of Service and Community Guidelines.
The first step to determining whether to have sensitive topics channels in your server is to define what is considered a sensitive topic for your community. If you are running a server for people from a specific country, a discussion of that country's conflicts with other countries may be a sensitive topic. Conversely, if you are running something like a political debate server, that same topic can be relatively non-problematic and not upsetting to the members of the server.
There are two main types of sensitive topics: triggering topics and contentious topics. A triggering topic is a topic or word that can prompt an increase or return of symptoms of a mental illness or mental distress due to trauma. A contentious topic is one that is controversial that has the potential to provoke heated arguments.
While sensitive topics can vary depending on what kind of server you own (e.g. a mental health server vs. a gaming server), keep in mind that there are topics that can be considered triggering and topics that can be considered contentious in most, if not all public spaces.
Triggering topics can vary wildly from community to community depending on what the focus of the community is. For instance, in a community for transgender people, in-depth descriptions of a body or the discomfort some people experience because of their body is likely to be a triggering topic. There are some triggers that are very common and should be handled with the assumption that they will cause multiple people in your community to feel uncomfortable or even traumatized regardless of what type of community it is. This would include things like sexual assault, graphic depictions of violence, other traumatic experiences, suicide and self harm, eating disorders, parental abuse or neglect, etc. These more sensitive topics should likely be separated out from more community specific topics that have the potential to invoke trauma such as transitioning or coming out in a server for LGBTQ+ people.
Channel names indicate to users the intended purpose of the channel. Carefully choosing your name can have a large impact on what the channel ends up being used for. For example, #personal-questions-and-advice versus #tw-emotional-support-and-venting give users very different impressions of what the channel is for. If you want a channel where someone can ask “What are some ways to distract myself if I feel like hurting myself” or, “my teacher is being homophobic, what should I do?” but not graphic descriptions of the symptoms of trauma or vice versa, make sure the name of the channel reflects that. Including tw (trigger warning) or cw (content warning) in your channel name will give the impression that the latter is allowed and is what the channel is intended to be used for.
Channels that have the potential to bring crisis situations into a server or cause distress to other members of the community should have specific rules to minimize the potential harm. These rules could be pinned in the channel, have their own channel within a category that houses sensitive topics channels, or be included in the servers rules. The example list of rules below includes some harm mitigation strategies, as well as the potential downsides of each.
Channels focused on sensitive topics can provide users with a comfortable space to discuss personal issues of varying severity and build closeness and trust between members of your community. These channels also have very specific risks and required mitigation strategies that will vary depending on the nature of the specific channel. If you are running a channel on transition advice for transgender users, your main concern will likely be fake advice about foods that change hormone levels or dangerous advice regarding illegally acquiring hormones. If you run a channel for sexual assault victims, your main concern will likely be victim blaming and ensuring that users reach out to professionals when needed. You have to consider what the specific risks in your channel are and ensure that you are writing policies that are specific to your needs and finding moderators that are knowledgeable and comfortable with those topics.
There may be contentious topics for your community in particular, but in general politics, economics, law, current events, and morality are contentious topics for most servers. These topics are likely to cause disagreements as a lot of users will have very varied and very firm opinions on the topics.
A channel named #discussion-of-current-events and a channel named #political-debates-to-the-death are going to yield very different types of interactions. If you want a channel where people can mention politics and current events and discuss things like the stock market or a new law that was passed, but don’t want discussions about whether specific world leaders are good or bad, or what economic model is the best one, make sure your channel name reflects that. Many/most users won’t read anything but the channel name, so your channel name needs to set the correct expectation for the content individuals will find inside.
Channels that have the potential to get heated and cause arguments that lead to negative feedback loops should have specific rules to minimize the potential harm. These rules could be pinned in the channel, have their own channel within a category that houses contentious topics channels, or be included in the servers rules. The list of rules below includes some harm mitigation strategies, as well as the potential downsides of each.
Channels focused around contentious topics can provide users with an engaging space to discuss topics with people from varied backgrounds and explore other perspectives. These channels also have very specific risks and required mitigation strategies that will vary depending on the nature of the specific channel. For example, if you are running a channel on COVID19, your main concern will likely be dangerous misinformation and conspiracy theories. If you run a channel for the 2020 US Presidential Election, your main concern may be things getting too heated or insult-flinging. You have to consider what the specific risks in your channel are and ensure that you are writing policies that are specific to your needs and finding moderators that are knowledgeable and comfortable with the topics.
Current event channels are for a single and specific current event, such as COVID-19 or mourning a beloved server member. Depending on the topic of the channel, it may also be a contentious or sensitive topic, but differs because it is a narrowly focused and usually temporary space. These channels can be useful to have if a topic either isn’t allowed per your servers rules, or is allowed but is overwhelming conversations in other channels (but is otherwise not something you want to outright ban the discussion of).
Channel names for specific current events should be as clear as possible. For instance, making a channel for the COVID-19 Pandemic and then naming the channel “Diseases” makes little sense. Instead, you would want to be specific and name it something like “COVID-19 Pandemic” or “COVID-19”. This ensures that your users will at-a-glance understand what the channel is for. You should also have a topic for the channel that helps inform users of its purpose. You may also want to have something like “Read The Rules” in the topic, so users know to read any additional rules. These rules could be pinned in the channel, have their own channel within a category that houses contentious topics channels, if you have multiple, or be included in the servers rules. Also keep in mind that users may not always read the channel topic or pinned messages.
Channels covering current events should have rules that help promote healthy discussion of these topics. While each real world event may be different, there are some baseline rules / guidelines that we believe these channels should have.
Channels like these can be difficult to manage. On one hand, you want things to be contained and on-topic. On the other hand, you may want to allow for other kinds of discussion that relate to the topic at-hand. Ultimately it is up to you to decide how to best implement these channels. Whether the channel is for a global pandemic, a friend passing away, a game releasing, or anything in-between, these channels will require a special finesse that other channels may not. It is our hope that these example rules and channel names can help you create a space that adheres to a specific topic and creates an atmosphere that is both respectful and engaging.