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Finding an online community on the 'Panic' Discord server

On June 3, the official Discord server for the Amazon Prime TV show “Panic” was born. Two months later, the server had just over 150 members, including Lauren Oliver, screenwriter and author of the novel from which the TV show was adapted. Oliver joined unexpectedly on June 8, and since then, Oliver has been surprisingly active: pitching “Panic”-related projects directly to her audience, providing exclusive insight into the show and organizing a server-only interview with actor David Thompson. This quantity of fan-creator interaction is revolutionary and perfectly suited for Discord.

Originally designed to connect gamers, Discord currently has 150 million active monthly users (MAUs) who have organized themselves into servers (virtual chat rooms) dedicated to everything from highly specialized communities, like the “Panic” fandom, to group chats among friends. However, that 150 million statistic makes Discord a small fish in the social media pond. As of July 2021, the most-popular platform worldwide is Facebook, with almost 3 billion MAUs. 

The number of MAUs is not the only measure of activity on a platform. Facebook users spend an average of 38 minutes per day on the app. For comparison, Discord users spend an average of 5 hours and 9 minutes each day. These numbers are averages, so they do not reflect the behavior of every user. Nevertheless, the differences are staggering and could account for a potential rise in Discord’s popularity as a fandom platform. 

Discord’s founders do not classify it as a social media platform.  That distinction may explain its popularity and potential to be a leader in the online fandom sphere. According to the website, the app has “no algorithm deciding what you should see, no endless scrolling, no news feed, no counting likes, no going viral” unlike traditional social media. The app provides an intuitive and highly personalized experience. Messaging and voice/video calling in endlessly subdivided channels allow fans to create communities from scratch, solely based around the entertainment they love. 

Bee, the “Panic” server’s owner, had community in mind when she started the server, just days after the show premiered on Amazon Prime Video.  

“I binged the show and I felt such a big need to do more with the content and find people to talk to,” Bee wrote in a direct message.

Bee usually engages in fandom via Tumblr, a popular website for fan content and discussion, but made the Discord because she felt that it was “one of the best platforms to actually engage” in fan culture.

“I love the chatting and the social aspect. I also think Discord is a great way to engage in fan culture without the need to create something,” Bee wrote. “Discord is a digital platform where it's enough to just be present.”

Other members, including Jaime, who writes fanfiction for the show on the longstanding online publishing platform Archive of Our Own, share a similar fondness for engaging in fandom, believing that it can enhance the experience of consuming media.

“The fandom is as much a work of art as the show is," Jaime wrote. "I love being able to discuss theories and what-ifs with other fans and it's such a supportive, encouraging community that I'm lucky to be in." 

Kyle, another member of the ‘Panic’ server, echoed that sentiment.

“The ‘Panic’ fandom is, without a doubt, one of the most welcoming online groups that I have ever been a part of. It is filled with a countless amount of kind, passionate and creative people, who are never too shy to show their love and support for the community." The friendly nature of this server (and others I have joined) is a product of its exclusivity. Fandom servers are created by and for a relatively small group of fans who are bound by their dedication to the fandom. A platform with that purpose is bound to foster community.  

Like any app, Discord has its downsides. Each server is moderated from within: server owners moderate or elect other members to perform moderator duties, which usually include enforcing server-specific rules and maintaining a fun environment for everyone. There are Discord-wide rules as well, but for the most part, servers are self-governing, which can make minors who join susceptible to non-age-appropriate content. There is no minimum age required to create an account (though 13 is recommended). Owners and moderators can lock channels with 18+ content so that it is only available to adults, but there is no way to verify who is truly over 18. Additionally, the platform can be stressful and extremely time-consuming if one lets it, even more so than large social media platforms.

When used responsibly, Discord is the ideal platform for engaging in fandom. My time in the “Panic” Discord has been hands-down the best fandom experience I have ever had. There is something so gratifying about connecting to strangers over your love of story – something I have only found on Discord. 

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