From the start, there were signs that Clubhouse was accelerating the platform’s lifecycle. Weeks into its launch, there were allegations that harassment and hate speech could increase, including large rooms where speakers allegedly made anti-Semitic comments. The startup made efforts to update its community guidelines to add basic blocking and reporting features, and its founders took the necessary Zuckerberg apology tour. (“We clearly condemn anti-blackness, anti-Semitism, and all other forms of racism, hate speech, and abuse in the clubhouse,” a company blog post said in October.)
The company has also been accused of ill-treating user data, including a Stanford report that found the company may have leaked some data through servers in China, potentially giving the Chinese government access to sensitive user information. (The company has pledged to lock down user data and undergo an external review of its security practices.) And privacy advocates have opposed the app’s aggressive growth practices, which include requiring users to upload their entire contact lists in order to send invitations to others to send.
“Major privacy and security concerns, lots of data extraction, use of dark patterns, growth without a clear business model. When will we learn? “Elizabeth M. Renieris, the director of the Notre Dame-IBM Tech Ethics Lab, wrote in a tweet this week comparing Clubhouse to the early days of Facebook.
To be fair, there are some key structural differences between the clubhouse and existing social networks. Unlike Facebook and Twitter, which revolve around central, algorithmically curated feeds, Clubhouse is organized more like Reddit – a group of current rooms that are moderated by users and have a central “hallway” that users can browse rooms in progress . Clubhouse rooms go away after they’re over, and recording a room is against the rules (although it still does), which means that in the traditional sense, it’s not really possible to “go viral.” Users must be invited to speak on the “stage” of a room, and moderators can easily launch unruly or disruptive speakers, reducing the risk of a civilized discussion being hijacked by trolls. And Clubhouse has no ads, which reduces the risk of seeking profit.
But there are still many similarities. Like other social networks, Clubhouse has a number of “discovery” features and aggressive growth hacking tactics designed to get new users deeper into the app, including algorithmic recommendations and personalized push notifications, as well as a list of suggested users to be followed should. These features, combined with Clubhouse’s ability to create private and semi-private rooms with thousands of people, create some of the same bad incentives and abuse opportunities that have violated other platforms.
The app’s reputation for lax moderation has also attracted a number of people who have been banned from other social networks, including those associated with QAnon, Stop the Steal, and other extremist groups.
The clubhouse has also become a home for people who are disaffected with social media censorship and criticize various gatekeepers. The attack on the New York Times, in particular, has become something of an obsession among clubhouse addicts for reasons that would require another full column. (A room called “How to Destroy the NYT” ran for hours at times and attracted thousands of listeners.)