A new social media platform is on the way with a novel audio-only approach to the market. The Clubhouse app, currently still in beta, purports to use the power of audio to enable free-flowing, real-time discussions. But what exactly is Clubhouse, and why are some already accusing it of courting anti-Semitism and hate speech?
How Does Clubhouse Work?
The concept behind Clubhouse is simple: the app will enable users to host and participate in audio-only discussions. According to Bloomberg, Clubhouse users can freely drop in and out of discussion rooms, which can accommodate hundreds of participants at a time.
Although the app is currently invite-only in private beta, it’s made a big industry splash since launching earlier this year. Celebrity users already include MC Hammer, Kevin Hart, and Jared Leto. According to The Verge, the app has been valued at $100 million.
Still, some media watchdogs have already taken the fledgling app to task for having weak moderation and reporting options. In July, journalist Taylor Lorenz told The Verge that internet trolls attacked her on Clubhouse over a review she wrote of the platform. At the time, she said there was no option in place for her to report the abuse.
Since then, Clubhouse has rolled out community guidelines and the capability to report harassment. However, as an audio-only network, it still faces unique challenges to real-time moderation of hate speech.
Signs of Trouble
These challenges came into full view on Monday night, September 28. Activist Ashoka Finley took to Clubhouse to host the discussion “Anti-Semitism in Black Culture.” Some 369 people tuned in to the discussion, which lasted around 3 hours. However, many who were present noted that it didn’t take long for the talk to descend into anti-Semitic rhetoric.
“The Jewish community and Black community do not have the same enemy,” a user known as Carlyle said at one point. “The Jewish community does business with their enemies. The Black community is enslaved by their enemies.”
At another point, a speaker reportedly said, “I think anti-Semitism is used as a blocker of the critique of Israel.”
Some attendees wasted no time in calling out the hate speech in the discussion, including venture capitalist Michaela Hirsch.
“Enters @clubhouse. Hears: 1) Non-Jewish folks redfining ‘antisemitism,’ 2) Jews are the face of capitalism, 3) Jews are ‘weaponizing antisemitism’, 4) Non-Jews asking Jews to tap into unlimited emotional labor to educate. I’m DONE,” tweeted Hirsch.
There’s a room on clubhouse right now that is literally just a bunch of people talking about why it’s ok to hate jews so I’m done with that app for awhile— Sara Mauskopf (@sm) September 29, 2020
Sara Mauskopf, CEO of Winnie daycares, also took to Twitter. “There’s a room on clubhouse right now that is literally just a bunch of people talking about why it’s ok to hate jews so I’m done with that app for a while,” she said.
The Wrong Place For Discussion?
Finley said he tried his best to mute speakers who made anti-Semitic remarks, but wanted to avoid silencing those with a different viewpoint than his own. Still, criticism came from within the discussion as well.
“I’m not sure what the responsibility of Clubhouse is or should be,” said one Jewish participant. “But the reality is this room devolved into anti-Semitic comments, one after another.”
Following the discussion, Finley took to Twitter to apologize for the unfortunate turn.
I apologize to anyone who felt threatened or harmed by anything said in the CH room I started tonight. I had no intention of negativity.— ashoka finley (@lifesupremacist) September 29, 2020
“I apologize to anyone who felt threatened or harmed by anything said in the CH room I started tonight,” he said. “I had no intention of negativity.”
Later, Finley hosted another Clubhouse discussion, where he said he would no longer use it to hold conversations about controversial issues.
“The risk to reward is too low for me to do anything like that again,” Finley said. “I want to talk about white supremacy in the music industry, but I actually don’t have the belief that this is the platform for it, no matter how nuanced this community thinks this is. I don’t see myself engaging heady topics with random strangers on the internet in the near future.”
Clubhouse has reportedly not made a comment on the issue, and it’s currently unknown when the app will become available to the general public.