The next hottest voice chat app out of Silicon Valley just might be a new breeding ground for controversy and contempt for its users.
If you’ve been following along online for the past few days, you’ll know that Clubhouse — a live audio platform still in its private Beta stage — has the potential to lead the pack for new buzzy social media apps this year.
What is Clubhouse exactly? Currently, it’s an invite-only, group voice-chat social network that allows users to speak to each other in real time.
The only way to gain access to the app is to reportedly be invited by an already established member on the platform. From there, users can start their own dedicated groups or casual chat groups to speak with followers and other fellow users on any and all topics.
In the wake of coronavirus lockdowns, the app’s spontaneous means of communication caught the eye of hundreds of users and quickly became a breakout sensation. Even Kurt Schrader — CEO and co-founder of Clubhouse — saw the potential in the app’s functions — back in May — when his Twitter mentions became flooded with comments of people who wanted to gain access, WIRED reports.
The app has been a wildly successful tech innovation in its infancy, and has thousands of users to date, according to Bloomberg. Nonetheless, with recent happenings on the platform, many question its intentions and plans for the future as it has yet to officially launch to the public.
Signs of trouble were spotted for the app — back in July — after journalist Taylor Lorenz told The Verge that she received hateful comments from internet trolls over her review of the app.
At the time, the app had no place for users to report abuse but has since rolled out community guidelines and the capability to report harassment, according to Parentology.
However, problems for the app didn’t stop there. This week, concerns over the safety of users, particularly Black women on the platform, were called into question after Marcia L. Dyson — social activist and founder of the Women’s Global Initiative — invited Russell Simmons — an alleged sexual predator in the entertainment industry — to join the app.
Good morning, @MarciaLDyson. You are the founder of the Women's Global Initiative and I find it abhorrent that you would nominate @UncleRUSH to @joinClubhouse, knowing that there are multiple allegations of sexual assault pending against him. Can you explain your reasoning?
— April (@ReignOfApril) October 12, 2020
So yesterday @MarciaLDyson invited a known rapist in the music industry, Russell Simmons, onto @joinClubhouse and he was speaking in a room tn. Russell Simmons on Clubhouse was a protest room created in response. It’s triggering to see victims within vicinity of their abusers. pic.twitter.com/s79T7ObfSc
— lofi quasi-polyglot dad (최유진) (@choi_clint) October 12, 2020
As outlined by the above Twitter user’s tweet, Simmons was able to speak in a chat room late Sunday evening and as a response, Clubhouse users created a “Russell Simmons on Clubhouse” room to protest his presence on the app.
This sparked an uproar online with users expressing their disdain for the app’s lack of accountability, leaving many puzzled about the app’s true intentions.
Russell Simmons violently raped me @MarciaLDyson ICYMI. I’m so grateful to friends who just warned me that @joinClubhouse may no longer be a safe space for me. Do you #ProtectBlackWomen or not so much? https://t.co/RSffmzBRKz
— Drew Dixon (@deardrewdixon) October 12, 2020
Russell Simmons isn’t the first predator on Clubhouse, and undoubtedly he won’t be the last. @joinClubhouse has taken a stance not to remove their accounts.
So bring your “breakout” conversations to Twitter, because doing it on the app only increases use data for their series B
— Dimplez 🇳🇬 (@Dimplez) October 12, 2020
Despite the split of opinions regarding these incidents, some users still argue that it’s a human issue that’s not up to the founders to fix. As of today, Clubhouse founders and spokespeople have yet to comment on these accusations.
“There is a point at which you can’t engineer your way out of the human condition,” said coffee entrepreneur, Nick Cho, in regards to an incident of anti-semitic comments made on the platform last week, according to Tablet.
What seems to be the most concerning for users is the platform’s apparent lack of boundaries, especially when so many other social media platforms have become comprised with ill rhetoric and reckless behavior in today’s time.
Now, it will be up to the app’s functionalities and rules of engagement to dictate whether or not its popularity will last amongst prospective users.
“The thing that makes it really wonderful and creates all those connections is exactly the thing that makes it more damaging when it’s something that’s not cool,” Cho said. “I believe ultimately it’s not going to last as a platform as a result. I don’t think that this concept can withstand humanity.”
The platform has since rolled out new trust and safety updates as well as an improved ranking algorithm that gives users more control over rooms as speakers and moderators, mostly centered around blocked users and limiting their abilities to join and interact in rooms with others who have them blocked.
Additionally, the app informed members that it has released new features to help Clubhouse members spread the word about events they host, which include new event notifications, event pages, and being able to add events to Google and/or Apple calendars.
For more information on Clubhouse, click here.
Editorial Note: This article has been updated since being published.