Much more credit arguably belongs to longtime users who created earlier viral moments—like the Clubhouse production of The Lion King—which set the stage for future growth. Many of them are Black creators who made the app their own, including guitarist Bomani X, currently featured on the app’s icon. Black creators helped transform the Clubhouse scene from a tech bro hangout to something more vibrant that could attract a wider audience.

China’s brief moment

“It’s fascinating for me to see how people from different sides [of an issue] are so drawn into having interactions with others, and perhaps curious about others’ viewpoints. I hope such precious time can last a few more days.” —A Taiwanese businessman working in mainland China, after hearing uncensored political discussions on Clubhouse

Nikkei Asia quoted that hopeful user on Feb. 5, a few days into Clubhouse’s meteoric rise in China. For about a week, Chinese users flocked to the app to hold open discussions about the Hong Kong protests, feminism, the experience of being interrogated by Chinese security officials, and the oppression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang Province—conversations that would be unimaginable in other corners of the heavily censored Chinese internet. But the moment didn’t last: By Feb. 8, Beijing had banned the app.

A scroll down the hallway

The main feed in Clubhouse is known as the “hallway,” because as you scroll you pass all the “rooms” where live conversations are happening (get it?). Sometimes, just skimming the list of available rooms is as fun as eavesdropping on an active conversation. Here’s a sampling of what you might see when you finally get that invite:

Image: Giphy

The moderation problem

Clubhouse caught a lot of flak in its early days for launching without any content moderation policies or safety features to speak of. As the app grew—and began hosting its share of hateful conversations—that laissez-faire attitude became untenable. Women, including female tech reporters like The New York Times’ Taylor Lorenz, were harassed without recourse. A group of minor celebrities doxxed and bullied doctors for countering their Covid-19 conspiracy theories. One influencer quit the app in protest over “the continued lack of action by [Clubhouse] in the face of anti-semitism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, [and] racism.”

Live audio presents a mountain of moderation challenges. Unlike with text posts, it’s hard for algorithms to automatically block hate speech, harassment, or misinformation when a person is speaking in real-time. Plus, Clubhouse didn’t record conversations in its early days, making it impossible for moderators to go back and review a user’s behavior after a conversation ended.

Clubhouse has since responded by creating community guidelines and updating its terms of service. It created “block,” “mute,” and “report” buttons, and started recording every conversation. (The recording gets deleted if no one reports bad behavior—otherwise it goes to a moderator for review.) The company has also directed some of its venture capital money to hiring more professional moderators, and developing training for users who host and moderate rooms.

As the app continues to grow, moderation will only get harder. Keeping its rooms from devolving into cesspools of hate and harassment will be a critical challenge if Clubhouse hopes to hold on to its current momentum.

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