Clubhouse: Overrated and generally misused

Clubhouse: Overrated and generally misused
3 min read
31 Mar, 2021
Does Clubhouse have the staying power to go beyond a pandemic fad? Ragheb Malli is not so sure.
Clubhouse currently has 10 million weekly active users [NurPhoto]
After years of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram dominance, a new contender on the social media scene, now worth US $1 billion, has emerged strong. According to CEO Paul Davidson, Clubhouse currently has 10 million users - a substantial jump from just 600,000 in December 2020.

This unique audio platform - initially popular among the Silicon Valley tech bro elites - works on an invite only basis, bringing an air of exclusivity and VIP statuses. Not only that, but Clubhouse has adopted a celebrity promotion strategy, where celebrities can moderate "rooms" that allow free communication and interaction with well-loved personalities.

The app works on an audio only basis. Unlike the visual appeal of Instagram, the sharing of commentary on Facebook, or the shorthand points made on Twitter, Clubhouse is based solely on real-time conversations in different rooms. As users, we are active, live participants, rather than passive curators of posts, perhaps one of the factors contributing to its rapid growth.

That said, it's still unclear whether Clubhouse will fade over time, like Snapchat, or rise to meet the enduring popularity of Facebook. Clubhouse requires a lot of active time, and spending half an hour in a room is really the minimum to get a feel for it. On an app like Instagram, however, in 30 minutes you can view hundreds of posts and the comments are passive - you either like or not, leave a comment or not, and move on.

In addition to the active time required of users in each room, along the way there are often pointless speakers who take the mic just so they can increase their popularity and following. Many rooms are run by non-experts under the banner of a serious topic with the pretension of bringing about change that is unlikely to result from a Clubhouse chat.

In comparison to Twitter for example, where users can scroll and reply while on the move, or while doing other things, Clubhouse requires your full attention and a relatively quiet background. Were it not for the global pandemic, would Clubhouse have become as popular as it has?

As for privacy, Clubhouse is also different. The Stanford Internet Observatory found that Agora - the company that supplies the framework for the Clubhouse app, is based in Shanghai. This means that "a user's unique Clubhouse ID number and chatroom ID are transmitted in plaintext, and Agora would likely have access to users' raw audio, potentially providing access to the Chinese government", according to the researchers.

Although Clubhouse has said they will rectify this, they have not disclosed any details on when or how. Basically, Clubhouse is not subject to any strict privacy laws, and on joining, the app asks you to grant access to all contacts and before you enter, if you want to invite others. Deleting the app is also a complicated process.

Only time will tell if Clubhouse can establish the same sustainability as other social media apps, or if it will peter out as a short-lived pandemic fad. For now, we should exercise caution and equilibrium while on the app, and not overestimate its capacity to bring about real change and awareness.

Ragheb Malli is a social media activist and writer with a BA in political science.

Follow him on Twitter: @Raghebmalli

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.