By Jessica Ramos
You’ve probably heard of the invite-only audio app that recently raised $10 million in support. An app so exclusive you have to be an iOS-user with an invite from an existing member to even join. This app is Clubhouse. The creators dropped the beta version with perfect timing as the world stayed home and people grappled with loneliness amplified by strict lockdown regulations amidst COVID-19. The app functions like a forum of different rooms where people come together to discuss a specific topic. There are no visuals, just audio, and the functionality of the app invites long-winded answers from a panel of unmoderated and uncredited “experts.”
This TikTok by Nadiyah, while funny, is not really an exaggeration, and sums up the way members engage on Clubhouse. She notes: “…for somebody like me, who is an entrepreneur, actor, singer, model, developer, sandwich artist, and skydiver.” Bios are your landing page, and for a society of creatives trying to keep up with the growing gig economy, people are trying to cover as many bases as possible.
In a room about ‘Emotional Intelligence,’ I checked out the bio of one of the moderators. Their profile read, among many other things, “…AI and Digital Health INN Expert Group, skintech/care, fitness tech, NHS Clinical Entrepreneurial Fellow…” and the list went on. “Board-Certified Lifestyle Medicine” also got lost among the fluff. I don’t know what a lot of these mean, and I think that’s part of what makes this sequence of titles and concepts sound more impressive than it actually may be.
Clubhouse influencers are spreading misinformation faster on the app for a variety of reasons, but most of it comes down to the platform’s functionality. Studies show that listening to someone increases your perception of their intelligence. Combine that with Clubhouse’s exclusivity that creates an air of importance around its existing members, and you’ve got a lure for people to tout their inflated sense of self-importance, an issue that has grown exponentially over the last 30 plus years.
It’s the layout of the app itself that really amplifies the pseudo-intellectualism that was already growing rampant on apps like Instagram—everyone’s an expert, a lifestyle coach, a wellness guru, etc. Clubhouse has given these people a literal platform with the title of moderator, where people come to listen specifically to them, and must raise their hand to speak. It’s no surprise that some people have abused this false sense of importance to spread toxic perspectives and dangerous misinformation.
I stumbled upon the ‘Emotional Intelligence’ room by searching through topics, a new feature Clubhouse has just rolled out, and found a ‘wellness’ topic. One of the top clubs in that category is ‘Too Broke For Therapy,” with 104,000 members. On one hand, a club like this could be a great resource for people who, as the title suggests, can’t afford therapy. On the other hand, there is a great danger in the possibility of vulnerable people supplementing real medical advice for advice given by “doctors” on the app. The opportunity to ask a “professional” their advice on a problem and get an immediate answer creates an easy fix, and people may not realize the potential harm in this. On Twitter, someone noted such a thing happening when a woman was told that her endometriosis could be healed through means outside of surgery, and she canceled her upcoming operation. People who attend these types of club rooms are already in a vulnerable position and are left to the possible carelessness of non-certified wellness “experts.” Expertise is the currency of Clubhouse, and everyone is doing their best to give off that perception, no matter the consequence.
There are no in-app moderators who are trained to de-escalate situations or call out misinformation or blatant lies. There are no fact checkers involved with Clubhouse—and people are hardly fact-checking their own sources of information. Further, fact-checking seems a lot harder with the way the app functions. When a clubroom is over, it’s wiped from the app, leaving what anyone said during the conversation lost. Recording conversations without permission will also get you banned from Clubhouse, but even if trained fact-checkers were employed for Clubhouse, they’d have to listen to hours of conversational audio, which could be difficult to make sense of.
The question is, then, how does one slow down the spread of misinformation? The creators of the app, Paul Davison and Rohan Seth, have stated they are going to look into implementing moderators, but it’s unclear how long that will take or what it will look like. They also need to incorporate a block button on the app, and allow reporting of other users to stop bullying or harassment. Until then, it looks like these highly important topics like wellness, technology, and science will remain free-for-alls.
Jessica Ramos is a freelance writer living and working in Madrid, Spain. Her work focuses on creatives, cultures, and cities and the intersections in between. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, taking photos around the city, and visiting art museums.