With Clubhouse gaining popularity rapidly, features in the app that make it loved by many are becoming the same ones that enables silencing of differing opinion, and exclusion of marginalised voices
Social media has for long been a difficult place when it comes to controlling content, and especially the exclusion of differing opinions. And even after many steps have been taken to ensure it remains a positive space, everyday new problems arise with no end in sight.
In the last couple of months as India battled the second wave of the Coronavirus pandemic, there was a surge in the popularity of audio-only platforms on social media. This surge was, in part, brought on by the release of the Clubhouse on iOS and later Android and other similar spaces.
And while Clubhouse and audio-only platforms were till now known for the freedom to organise discussions, this came at a cost.
Clubhouse started off as a social media app that allowed everyone to talk, tell stories, develop ideas, deepen friendships and meet interesting new people around the world. The idea was to have healthy discussions, listen to people’s opinions and break barriers by allowing users to join in on conversations in real time, however as the user base of the app grew, so did the problems.
In India, where the Android OS dominates with a whopping 95% of the market share, an app that is awaited and that becomes available on Android after it has been released on iOS creates a lot of waves. This was seen with Clubhouse as well. Since it became available to the android users, there have been a lot of conversations around how Clubhouse has become a toxic place where anyone who chooses to express opinions not favoured by the majority is denied a safe place to share their thoughts and even shunned for sharing a differing opinion.
In December 2020, users in the US started complaining about how Clubhouse has refused to take any action against the homophbic, racist, and misogynistic users. While the users wanted Clubhouse to make a statement and say how certain things are unacceptable, the app’s lack of action put off a lot of users.
Similar developments are now being seen in India. Users have complained, on the app and on other social media platforms, how they have been kicked out of a room because they happen to express their views that were different from the point of view of the organisers.
Sharing her experiences on Twitter, @lawandemotions wrote how she was kicked out of a room that was discussing Brahmanism and myths. “They kicked me out when I was reading chapter 9 para 32 of the Bhagavad Gita which says women, vaishyas and shudras are of “sinful birth” and said sorry we respect women a lot. By kicking me out,” she tweeted.
Many such instances have also come to the forefront on Twitter where people from the marginalised communities have been targeted on the app and their voices silenced. A Twitter user Karan Tripathi tweeted: “Clubhouse has become yet another platform to exclude Dalit, Bahujan and Adivasi voices within queer circles. In some of the small meetings, DBA queers told me that they were arbitrarily removed from the speakers list each time they talked about their experiences.”
Despite there being a ‘safe space’ for the LGBTQ community to discuss their issues, when certain issues were highlighted, they were immediately termed as ‘political’ by the queer circles who wanted the issues to remain focussed on ‘queer issues’. “This exclusionary singularising of queer culture in India is very concerning,” Karan tweeted.
Abhishek Therkar, another Clubhouse user, shared a similar experience on Twitter. “I joined one clubhouse discussion on AOC (Annihilation of Caste) but they removed me (a DALIT) from the mic within a minute bcoz I tried to speak on the negligible representation of SC-ST in the cabinet minister. But they gave a chance to every Upper caste to speak for at least 5-10 min.”
He further mentioned how the people who removed him were bahujan people who gave a chance to the upper caste people to speak but not a Dalit. “Even Bahujan space is not giving me a chance then where should I go,” he added.
Similar stories play out on Clubhouse on a regular basis especially when it comes to discussions regarding caste distinctions in the country.
A discussion on“existentialism” in a room composed mostly of college students who knew little about philosophy, the discussion soon turned into a random discussion form ranging from politics to sports.
However, when the topic of reservation emerged, everyone started questioning the rationale behind it. One of the moderators, who was an OBC, chipped in the discussion and said, “reservation is required to undo historical injustices.” Her words followed a very brief silence, then another speaker said, “ohh you are the beneficiary, lol.”
Although Clubhouse has remained exclusive till now and has allowed users on an invite-only basis, there are talks that it will soon remove the hurdle of new users joining the app. The option has so far ensured limited numbers on the app, with the removal of the criteria though the number of users on the app is expected to explode.The situation then is only expected to deteriorate if no changes are made in the functioning Clubhouse implements and ensures an open platform where everyone is given the space to voice their opinions and where community standards are enforced it could spell doom for serious users of the app.
One of the main reasons for this is that the audio never leaves the app. The conversations that people have are not saved nor can they be recorded and shared anywhere. This creates the problem of identifying and proving the guilt of users indulging in exclusionary moderators. The problem is not new, Clubhouse has dealt with a lack of a cohesive plan to ensure content moderation and user safety around the world and yet it has not done much to protect its users from abuse and exclusion.
Alpha Exploration Co, the developers behind Clubhouse have a herculean task on their hands, that of ensuring the expansion of their user base to provide a platform for more people while ensuring that the app does not become another exclusionary club with no place for unpopular opinions and differing voices.
(With inputs from Mayank Jain Parichha)