A new, alluring social media app called Clubhouse is quickly gaining buzz among Silicon Valley insiders, venture capitalists, and celebrities such as 21 Savage and Joe Budden, alike.
What is Clubhouse?
Founded in March 2020 by Paul Davison and Rohan Seth, Clubhouse is a new, invite-only (for now) audio social app in which users join chat rooms and are able to hear other users conversing, and join the discussion themselves. As of right now, the app is still in beta testing and only has a few thousand users, most of whom are either public figures or have some connection to Silicon Valley. The app is slowly expanding its user base by inducting roughly a dozen new users each day, thus still maintaining its exclusivity as it assesses how well the company can execute its intended purpose to foster communication and human connection among a steadily-growing audience. In the meantime, they've also begun a waiting list where you can register your username ahead of time.
The new-fangled app was valued at $100 million back in May, despite the fact that it only had a mere 1,500 total users at the time (today’s figure hovers a little over 10,000 users), with investments coming from American venture capital firm, Andreessen Horowitz. As the next stages of the app’s testing process unfold, it will be made clearer whether the buzz surrounding the app is solely the result of its exclusivity, or if Clubhouse would still be met with the same excitement were it to be made more accessible to the public. In the few months since its iteration, Clubhouse has already garnered shout-outs from a number of high-profile figures in the black and hip-hop communities, with users Kevin Hart, producer Cardo Got Wings, and TIDAL’s chief content officer, Elliott Wilson, all showing love to the platform.
The scarcity of a product is often used to ensure success in today’s hype-oriented streetwear and cultural landscape, however, for this tactic to be employed by a social media app is a relatively novel concept. Generally speaking, the ideology social media startup founders have by-and-large operated by is that more reach equals more success, but Clubhouse is proving that rarity can be just as valuable a tool as accessibility in ensuring prosperity.
Even so, the app's founders have stated that this exclusive nature of the app isn't their intention: "We are building Clubhouse for everyone and working to make it available to the world as quickly as possible. It’s not intended to be exclusive; we just aren’t ready to ship the general release version yet." The reasoning? "We think it’s important to grow communities slowly, rather than 10x-ing the user base overnight. This helps ensure that things don’t break, keeps the composition of the community diverse, and allows us to tune the product as it grows," as well as the fact that they have limited employees and thus haven't finished building out the features of the app quite yet.
Clubhouse’s unique approach may distinguish the app from other reigning social media platforms, however, it has not been exempt from controversy as the app tries to find its footing in the tech world. Continue reading for a look at the controversy the company was recently enmeshed in, as well as a who’s who of celebrities and hip-hop figures who we know are enjoying access to the platform presently.
September Anti-Semetic Remarks
The challenge with founding a platform on the basis of promoting candid discussions amongst people of different walks of life is that free speech and hate speech are often inextricably linked. While things may have been smooth-sailing for Clubhouse for a few months, it was only a matter of time before impending controversy hit. When it did hit, it was in the form of a series of anti-Semitic remarks that had erupted in a chat room titled “Anti-Semitism and Black Culture,” moderated by activist Ashoka Finley on Yom Kippur in September.
The chat room drew 350 simultaneous users, while hundreds of others poured in and out throughout its duration, making it one of the app’s most popular chat rooms to date. While the conversation apparently started out constructive, it quickly became derailed, with people unabashedly expressing offensive tropes against Jewish people, stereotyping them as wealthy and stingy, with the discussion centering around certain users’ belief that black people deserve reparations, while the Jewish community does not, due to the perceived economic success of many Jewish people in America.
When Jewish participants attempted to interject, they were trampled over by others and went largely unheard. The discussion room was criticized for essentially pitting two minority communities against each other. Given the title of the discussion, some felt the result was unsurprising. The fact that it was held on Yom Kippur, one of the holiest days of the year for Jewish people, only stoked the controversy further.
The struggle for moderation will be one of Clubhouse’s defining obstacles, as has been the case for other apps built on the same philosophy of encouraging connection, such as Yik Yak, which rose in popularity for the unfiltered, forthright dialogue it offered users and fell from grace for the very same reason. Yik Yak offered users anonymity that Clubhouse does not, but that has not stopped some Clubhouse users from entering false names, ranging from Elon Musk to Tim Cook, in order to attract others to their chat rooms, prompting users to call on the platform to enforce a real name policy.
These incidents show that it does not take much for Clubhouse’s well-intended goal of bringing people together at a time in which most are practicing social distancing, to spiral out of control. It is evident that as the platform continues to accept new users, offensive discourse will only become more prevalent, meaning that implementing strong community guidelines and zero-tolerance policies for hate speech will be paramount in order for Clubhouse to maintain its credibility.
Clubhouse’s Celebrity Users
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The black community’s influence in dictating trends has been made clear beyond doubt in recent years. Aside from the fact that at least half of all internet slang, fashion trends, and dance crazes are derived from black creators or personalities, black consumers wield significant buying power and thus, brands often need to cater to them in order to survive. Clubhouse seems to have caught onto this particular indicator of success early on, with them notably extending the app’s exclusive membership to many influential members of the black community, such as E-40, Chris Rock, Kevin Hart, Terry Crews, MC Hammer, 21 Savage, Oprah Winfrey, and Joe Budden. Other famous names include Hannibal Buress, Ashton Kutcher, Mark Cuban, Jared Leto, and reportedly even Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.
Clubhouse’s celebrity roster has begun turning some heads, with people noting that the company seems to be strategically cherry-picking certain black public figures to promote the app among the black community. Companies headed by non-black folks going out of their way to hook black people onto their ideas is becoming an increasingly common phenomenon, and many black people staunchly believe that their communities should refrain from indulging these corporations, who they perceive as strictly self-serving.
One person tweeted, “So there’s a new white space app called clubhouse that requires an invite to join; and Black folk who have been historically denied access are supposedly clamoring to get on and espouse its exclusivity to others who weren’t invited? Sounds like some “onlyoneism” ish to me.”
Regardless of whether or not this strategy has been carved out by Clubhouse as meticulously as it would appear, it is clearly paying off. Multiple Clubhouse users have expressed on social media that Meek Mill and 21 Savage have emerged as two of the app’s most entertaining users, and are even something of a dynamic duo when they happen to be on the app at the same time. Meek Mill has even expressed interest in investing in the company, taking to Twitter to ask how he could go about doing so.
As far as the conversations go on the app, well, apparently E-40 gave his thoughts on the future of rap, while MC Hammer spoke about COVID-19's effect on the prisons.
The #ClubhouseChallenge Trend Explained
On October 27th, the #ClubhouseChallenge trend emerged on Twitter, in which people utilize Twitter’s new voice recording feature to record themselves speaking to a presumed audience, as though in a Clubhouse chat room. In their recordings, users rattle off nonsensical statements one after the other, poking fun at the manner in which people discuss issues on Clubhouse, trying so hard not to offend anyone that they actually end up saying a whole lot of nothing. Other #ClubhouseChallenge videos simply mock the outlandish statements that are sometimes said on the platform; listen to some examples below.
Are you vying for a spot on the up-and-coming platform’s member list? Let us know if you're familiar with the app yet in the comments.