Clubhouse, an emerging social media platform born under coronavirus-driven lockdowns, has given users a chance to connect via intimate audio conversations with virtual strangers even while isolated at home.
But as the platform continues to grow, the same model that has allowed users to connect while physically apart raises concerns about how the app will handle the spread of misinformation.
Unlike traditional social media platforms, where the user’s footprint is more permanent, the clubhouse’s conversations in the app are not recorded by the app, making it “substantially impossible” to see the spread of false information or harassment, Emerson Brooking, a senior fellow resident at Atlantic Council̵
“Because your words do not follow you in the same way as they do with a Twitter account, you feel more relaxed, and that means the app works as intended. But of course that means it also poses special dangers, Brooking added.
Brooking said the Clubhouse model allows users to feel free to talk freely, without necessarily considering whether they are sharing accurate information – or the consequences of spreading misinformation.
The clubhouse is designed to allow users to enter and exit chat rooms with a focus on a wide variety of topics. A listener can choose to participate by almost raising their hand, and a moderator can then enable them to become speakers in the room.
Moderators, or the user who starts the clubhouse, can also add or remove other speakers so they can direct the conversation.
The clubhouse has provided a platform for people to host informal panels across a wide range of fields, while traditional conferences and events have been canceled due to the pandemic.
But the app’s informal nature has already led to reports of spreading misinformation, including spreading false claims about coronavirus and coronavirus vaccine, as Vice reported earlier this month. Such false claims have also continued to plague traditional social media, although Twitter and Facebook have promised to crack down on content.
“It is a big concern right now that this could be an ideal gathering place for members of the anti-vaccine community, because it gives people an opportunity to convene sympathetic clubhouses that talk and promote anti-vaccine content. And they can control the course of the conversation, so that other voices are not heard, “said Brooking.
The clubhouse rules for users prohibit the dissemination of “false information or spam”, as well as misuse and harassment. And while the Clubhouse usually does not record its sessions, the platform’s guidelines state that it has a temporary audio recording for the purpose of supporting incident investigations. If a user reports an event in real time, the platform is prompted to keep the temporary recording.
However, if a user reports an incident after the room is closed, the platform will not have access to the room sound to support the investigation, according to the guidelines.
As the app continues to grow, so can the problem of misinformation.
The platform was first launched with a smaller set of users in March last year, around the time the global locks started. Despite still being in an invitation phase, Clubhouse has rapidly increased in popularity and surpassed 10 million installations globally from Friday, according to data from the app analysis company Sensor Tower.
A spokesman for the clubhouse did not respond to comments to confirm how many active users are on the platform to date, but in a blog post from January 24, Clubhouse estimates that it had about 2 million users that week.
Since then, the number of installations has increased. During the three weeks between January 25 and February 14, Clubhouse saw around 6 million installations globally, up 400 percent from the three weeks before, based on Sensor Tower’s data.
People who download the app and have not yet been invited are allowed to enter their information to receive their invitation to join through a mutual connection that is already a member, or receive a notification when the app is opened to the public in general.
The app has already drawn high-profile users, from Elon MuskElon Reeve MuskSpaceX built a real commercial space for fun, profit and a good cause Oldest US bank BNY Mellon holds Bitcoin for customers Mastercard to support cryptocurrency MORE to Lindsay Lohan, and strengthened the platform.
“I think it’s the new ‘the’ place to be, at a time when you have no place to be,” said Jennifer Grygiel, an assistant professor of communication at Syracuse University.
“Many people who first started with this were influencers. Even they were stuck at home during this pandemic, “Grygiel added.
The clubhouse may have one leg up when it comes to reducing the spread of viral misinformation compared to its traditional social media counterparts, according to experts.
Unlike almost all other platforms, including Twitter and Facebook, there is no “reblog” feature that allows users to share each other’s posts, which is often how posts, including misinformation, are disseminated to a wide audience.
“If there’s one thing that really sets it apart, it’s the reduced capacity for virality built into the platform itself,” said Aram Sinnreich, a professor at the American University’s School of Communication.
While some have raised concerns that misinformation could spread more freely because conversations disappear after a chat room ends, Sinnreich downplayed the concern. Users who are exposed to a wide audience will be skeptical that the conversations will be archived or monitored from an external source, he said.
“I think anyone who is interested in being an influencer – a public figure, a celebrity, a professional spreader of propaganda or disinformation, a political organizer – anyone who has such a job a description will be aware of the limited security and capacity for surveillance and filing at the clubhouse, and will act accordingly, ”said Sinnreich.
“And anyone who is not aware of it, and feels freer to express themselves than they would on Facebook or Twitter, is an ignorant person who does not understand social media and therefore has limited capacity to include other people,” he added.
As more people join the platform, and if it is opened to the public, the changing user base could change the culture of the app and potentially lead to an additional risk of spreading misinformation, experts warned.
“There’s a future a few years down the road where if the clubhouse went Facebook’s way, a demographic over the age of 65 would start joining the platform galore,” Brooking said, noting that Facebook was launched as a site reserved for college students only.
“And instead of being a place for the Silicon Valley elite to have very technology-oriented conversations, it would basically be the future of talk radio,” he added. “And if we went that route, the dangers of dis-and-misinformation would be much more pronounced.”