Will The Clubhouse Boat Sink or Swim?

Will The Clubhouse Boat Sink or Swim?

The skyrocketing of the live, audio-only app, follows the questions of its need, the danger of data spillages, and if its exclusivity will exhaust soon enough.

We don’t know about yours but our Instagram has been an overflowing cup of screenshots of closed Clubhouse rooms with discussions oscillating from how real the influence of influencers is to safe spaces talking about gender dysphoria. While people may be running the risk of losing sleep and tuning in for late nights shows (read: rooms), with the exception of James Corden being replaced by anyone and everyone, it begs to ask the question did we really need another social media platform to ‘connect’?

Clubhouse as an audio-only app describes itself as "a new type of social product based on voice [that] allows people everywhere to talk, tell stories, develop ideas, deepen friendships, and meet interesting new people around the world." With our generation filled with socially anxious people, no thanks to the pandemic, who find comfort in texts, is an audio-only app really the answer to our woes? Even if we consider the idea of the app bringing people closer via audio for a second there (which was by the way, the founding principle of the app), it’s not like any other social media apps did not offer the option for voice calls or Instagram live sessions, perhaps?

And this is only part of the reason for being cynical about the app. Whenever there’s a cross-pollination of enriching ideas, the threat of hate speech is not far behind, leading to how Clubhouse ensures our safety and privacy. For an app being inaugurated bang in the middle of a worldwide panic about private data, post the Facebook scandal, the least you could expect is for it to be air-tight in terms of data leakages and other safety issues that plague our digital space.

On top of that, the app has become a burgeoning breeding ground for triggering hate speech including misogyny, islamophobia, racism, casteism, hypernationalism, and probably any other isms you could think of. Multiple instances have resurfaced wherein conversations have gone overboard, especially political discussions quickly turning hateful, leaving users with no power to report the defaulters. It’s been often said that the ephemeral and live nature of the social media platform makes moderation and policing of such content more difficult than ever.

Hussain Haidry points out another problem with an audio-only app like Clubhouse.

“When people write something hateful on Twitter, you can see the content in its entirety. With places like Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces, where conversations carry on for hours, there is no way to track down on the magnanimity of the amount of hate being spread.”

Hussain Haidry via The Quint

Moderation and monitoring throw us face-to-face with another problem which is government spying. Rumors have been floating around that government agencies have been dropping in many Clubhouse rooms. This stands in direct violation of Clubhouse’s privacy policies, stating that nobody can "record any portion of a conversation without the expressed consent of all of the speakers involved". And that’s not all, Standard Internet Observatory recently found out issues regarding data leakage by Clubhouse to a Shanghai-based provider of real-time engagement software that holds up the back-end of the app. Moreover, an investigation via Internet Freedom Foundation unearthed that Clubhouse digs into excessive personal data and how further synchronization with other social media apps allows it to access the information you share on those apps.

What’s abundantly clear is that Clubhouse needs to make a complete run-through of their content moderation policies to tackle hate speech better, enforce stricter data protection guidelines and offer more to retain the low attention span of Gen-Z. Moreover, with this information coming to life, will users withdraw in the fear of data spills, or will the crowd get thinner as the exclusivity of the new app fades away? Only time will tell.

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