This headline from the NY Times caught my eye:
Clubhouse, a Tiny Audio Chat App, Breaks Through
The 11-month-old app has exploded in popularity, even as it grapples with harassment, misinformation and privacy issues.
I understand that every social media platform has to deal with misinformation, but I was surprised by the harassment and privacy issues the subtitle referred to.
My understanding of Clubhouse was that it was for pseudo-private conversations. Unless the app is leaking out information, I can’t imagine privacy to be an issue.
The NY Times article has one brief mention about privacy:
This month, German and Italian regulators publicly questioned whether Clubhouse’s data practices complied with European data protection laws. And China blocked the app after political conversations popped up on it outside the country’s tight internet controls.
It was a press release from The Hamburg Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information, you know, Martin Schemm. Its something to do with them reading your contacts when you install the app. Fine.
In another article linked to by the NY Times article provides more clarity regarding privacy:
On Clubhouse, however, there are no screenshots. There is no way to drag up old Clubhouse posts years later like a user might do on Twitter. There is no way to record conversations—meaning there is no way to prove that someone said anything controversial at all. There’s no path to accountability. Users on Clubhouse know, or at least believe, that they can openly speak their mind with zero repercussions. Platforms like Twitter and Facebook have implemented robust moderation programs in recent years, a move that has been both praised and criticized by many.
This sounds like a feature, not a bug. Just between you and me, I don’t record any of my Zoom calls with friends. Just don’t mention it to any journalists.
The whole premise behind Clubhouse is that its for pseudo-private conversations. Most adults should understand context of their environment. There are things you would say in front of friends that you wouldn’t say in front of colleagues.
This is understood online to an extent. For instance, on r/wallstreetbets referring to others as mentally challenged is perfectly acceptable, even applauded. So Clubhouse is a sand-boxed version of that, allowing for different norms among different groups.
Harassment could be a problem for Clubhouse, but given its design, I can’t imagine it being worse than a place like Twitter. Have you ever been on Twitter? People are mean. Jimmy Kimmel even made it to a recurring segment.
What makes harassment so damaging is when it persists and is unavoidable. Think about the most egregious forms of harassment: school, workplace and online. School is the worst in my opinion, because it is sometimes violent and usually involves young children who have no choice of being there. Workplace is similarly bad because some people don’t have the luxury to leave an abusive workplace. And online is awful because it persists and is widely available. The most harmful part of harassment is its persistence and unavoidability.
Clubhouse doesn’t have that problem. Nothing persists, and according to the journalists that’s the problem:
Because of the nature of the app, some of these well known public figures are able to speak freely on Clubhouse without risk of being held accountable by journalists. Unless you were in the room yourself, it’s only hearsay that anything controversial was said at all. Journalists are often the only people able to hold businesses and influential figures accountable for their actions, but they can’t publish what was allegedly said on an app that doesn’t enable them to collect proof. Because of this, Clubhouse enables these actions, creating a safe space for the world’s more privileged and wealthy to say whatever they want without fear of facing consequences.