Social Media

Journalists Worried About People Having Conversations on Clubhouse

A person you know might be having an online conversation without a transcriptionist and a fact-checker right now, and we have to stop it.

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All good things must come to an end—or at least become the subject of a scoldy Poynter article and a prominent New York Times tech reporter compiling a list of "issues and incidents." In this case, the target is Clubhouse, a nascent audio-only conversation app that's part chatroom, part conference panel, part good happy hour, the kind where you leave feeling like your subway fare wasn't wasted.

The Poynter piece levies complaints and concerns at the app, including that "Clubhouse's design inherently excludes people with certain disabilities" by making "zero affordances" for those who are deaf or hearing-impaired. (Unfortunately, it's fairly impractical to make real-time audio apps both accessible and enjoyable to deaf people.) But Poynter quickly moves on to its more central concern, which is that the app poses a problem for fact-checkers since it "doesn't keep old posts or audio files and doesn't allow users to record conversations." In fact, "there is no way to prove that someone said anything controversial at all," the article notes, citing Grit Daily's Olivia Smith.

This seems like it would be bad for snitches and media industry narcs, of which there are many, but actually quite good for reducing the reach of misinformation, slurs, or controversial statements. Unlike Twitter and Facebook, where biased or untrue red-meaty content regularly gains traction or goes viral, there's a limit to the total distribution and reach of untrue or unsavory words uttered on Clubhouse.

(To be sure, that's not an argument for regulating the social media giants or dismantling Section 230 protections, but it is a useful difference in how the platforms operate.)

Poynter's diatribe ends on a truly special note: After noting that the Chinese government's censors have started cracking down on the app when they realized it had been used by mainland Chinese speakers to communicate with people abroad—the free flow of information across borders is a big no-no for authoritarians—the media ethics outlet asks, "If Xi Jinping's administration isn't ignoring Clubhouse, why should fact-checkers? Why should you?"

There are many reasons why this is a facile and absurd statement, one of which is that in a free society, we don't use "what Xi Jinping feels threatened by" as a litmus test for what we ought to crack down on. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) feels threatened by images of Winnie the Pooh, mentions of the Tiananmen Square massacre, discussions of police brutality, depictions of LGBTQ people, the selling of Bibles (though a tightly limited number are allowed to be produced and distributed), the movies Brokeback Mountain and Memoirs of a Geisha, and one of the best South Park episodes. (Disclosure: The show's creators are friends and supporters of Reason.)

The CCP does not allow citizens to use certain search terms, and certainly doesn't allow them to be on Twitter (or Slack, Instagram, Wikipedia, or Pinterest). CNN and BBC broadcasts are sometimes blacked out in China when censors come across a segment that is unfit for the eyes of the people—unfit in terms of being critical of the regime or exposing the forced labor camps the CCP is shunting Uighur ethnic minorities into in Xinjiang province. It's hard to overstate the lengths to which the CCP will go to prevent Chinese citizens from accessing information and forming their own opinions. All of this is good reason why U.S. regulators need not take a hint from the CCP when deciding which forms of social media to crack down on.

But in the end, content moderation comes for us all, and New York Times tech reporter Taylor Lorenz has started to publish a list of grievances against the app. To be sure, there are plenty of instances of people saying things that are inappropriate, unkind, untrue, racist, sexist, clumsy, or distorted, just as there are on all forms of social media. Lorenz describes it in tweets as a "toxic culture" where there's been a "failure to invest or prioritize user safety," reminding followers that "CH has no policy or guardrails against disinformation."

All of this is true, but it's not justification for government regulators to swoop in or app creators to be bigger hall monitors. But it's also true that conversations between people in the real world often include things that are untrue or not fact-checked; things that are distorted or biased; anecdotes that have been stretched and extrapolated, used in place of actual data; things that are unkind and hurtful. Clubhouse is more raw than other forms of social media. It's fast and off-the-cuff, which can be both a feature and a bug. It's intimate—you hear people's voices, their children in the background, the background noise when someone is tuned in while driving a car.

And there's another hard truth to grapple with: Unsurprisingly, when you moderate content and kick extremists off platforms like Twitter and Parler, they don't wholly abandon their bad ideas, but rather shift to encrypted apps, private messages, or new forms of getting in touch. As one Associated Press headline worried last month, "Extremists exploit a loophole in social moderation: Podcasts." No matter how hard you try to stamp out bad behavior, it will shift to other platforms and environments. Ones that might even be harder to keep tabs on.

So far on Clubhouse, I've listened to libertarians worldwide talk about what COVID-19 lockdowns have looked like in the E.U.; to Uighur activists and foreign correspondents talk about Beijing's recent crackdowns on Hong Kong and the movement of expelled foreign journalists to Taiwan; to New Yorkers trying to chart the course of the city's pandemic recovery and whether we should sever ties now or stay loyal to a place that hardly cares whether we stay or leave (though its apathy is part of its allure). None of these conversations have included a Clubhouse-affiliated monitor, and I can't access a transcript of what was said or who said it—which might work in my favor since I got a little too sassy about the utter inanity of some New Yorkers continuing to double-mask post-vaccination. None of the information being exchanged was fact-checked—almost like a real conversation, in which you have to use your own critical thinking skills to judge the veracity of what's being said and the credibility of who's saying it.

I don't need Clubhouse content moderators to swoop in at the government's (or reporters') behest to prevent my delicate ears from hearing unvetted, unverified information. I can judge for myself what's useful and true. You probably can, too.

NEXT: Menthol Cigarette Bans Will Fail Like Every Other Prohibition Scheme

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  1. This comes as no surprise to me. It’s been obvious for a long time that the Nanny Staters won’t be content with anything short of total control of what everyone says and thinks.

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    2. Reason is now a member of the nanny state.

  2. “(To be sure, that’s not an argument for regulating the social media giants or dismantling Section 230 protections, but it is a useful difference in how the platforms operate.)”

    Hahaha!

    1. R Mac posts a content-free comment, virtue signaling to his fellow alt-right anti-230 buddies.

      1. Dee squawks like a bird, virtue signaling to herself.

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      2. You agreed with jeff that cops can kill unarmed people for trespassing.

        1. They’ve always been authorized to do such things during a violent mob attack. You are being disingenuous as heck.

          1. *during a violent mob attack

            So deadly force can be used against unarmed protesters trespassing? While I agree, that’s very interesting to hear. I wonder if you’d feel that way if some pig took out a “BLM Protester” as the horde smashed their way into a store for whatever purpose one does such things.

            1. Now ask him if Kyle Rittenhouse and Jake Gardner should be prosecuted.

          2. For weeks you lied that Sicknick was beaten to death with a fire extinguisher. Now we’ve found out that he was never hit by anyone or anything.
            https://amp.cnn.com/cnn/2021/02/02/politics/brian-sicknick-charges/index.html

            Fuck you, Wormtongue, you fucking liar.

          3. “…a violent mob attack…”

            You misspelled “protest” shitstain.

  3. the media ethics outlet asks, “If Xi Jinping’s administration isn’t ignoring Clubhouse, why should fact-checkers? Why should you?”

    Establishment media must die. It must die now. It must be destroyed so it can be saved.

    1. “Establishment media must die. It must die now. It must be destroyed so it can be saved.”

      No. It must not be saved. It needs to be completely destroyed and the ground on which it stood salted so nothing can grow back.

  4. The people complain about clubhouse are the same totalitarian that are wanting to buy substack in order to kick off the “wrong” people

    1. and had no issues with things like Journolist years ago.

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  5. How long until the big email providers start flagging your private emails for truthiness, or suggesting alternate wording, or alerting you that your opinions don’t agree with the Associated Press?

    If anyone still uses email.

  6. If someone had told me 25 years ago that the establishment media would be behaving like this, I would have laughed in their face.

    This is genuinely terrifying with where journalism has landed on these issues.

    1. Trump was not being hyperbolic when he said they are the enemy of the people. And to prove him wrong, they started behaving like this.

      1. No, he was not, and I am firmly in that camp. The media is now on a full crusade to censor and eliminate any political opposition. The corporate media is now effectively an arm of the state, and in particular, the state establishment.

      2. They were behaving like this before Trump. What Trump did was show them that authoritarian impulses are now stylish and acceptable.

        Don’t forget that Trump wanted to do away with Section 230 so he could regulate social media. The difference between the Left and the Right has come down to merely team colors.

        1. “Don’t forget that Trump wanted to do away with Section 230 so he could regulate social media.”

          Cite?

        2. Getting rid of 230 doesn’t allow government to regulate them fuckwit.

          1. Yes, but technically a government agency decides whether or not said platform is protected, right? Honest question. I don’t really know.

          2. And while I voted for Trump ‘20, and am no fan of the CCP, the whole ban Tik Tok thing was a bit reeky.

        3. Hey remember that time when Trump illegally bugged two journalists and jailed more journalists under the espionage act than any other president in history? Oh wait…

        4. Don’t forget that Trump wanted to do away with Section 230 so he could regulate social media.

          I’m wondering why you feel the need to comment on a subject about which you are so clearly and fundamentally ignorant.

      3. Indeed. Donald Trump as prophet.

        Now, having deposed him in a questionable election, the Democrat/Media/Entertainment complex wants him crucified, and the latter day Pontius Pilates of the GOPe are happy to oblige and ostentatiously wash their hands of the whole sordid affair. Together they are all creating Trump as the Martyred Messiah and beginning the persecution of his “followers.”

        Thus is life in the American Empire. Interesting times.

  7. But in the end, content moderation comes for us all, and New York Times tech reporter Taylor Lorenz has started to publish a list of grievances against the app. To be sure, there are plenty of instances of people saying things that are inappropriate, unkind, untrue, racist, sexist, clumsy, or distorted, just as there are on all forms of social media. Lorenz describes it in tweets as a “toxic culture” where there’s been a “failure to invest or prioritize user safety,” reminding followers that “CH has no policy or guardrails against disinformation.”

    What a fucking piece of human garbage Lorenz is. Her whole job is fabricating disinformation for a has-been propaganda sheet..

    Where’s all those pictures of Taylor Lorenz partying with ENBrown and the Soaves?

    1. There are very likely zero such pictures, since they don’t see eye-to-eye on regulation of social media.

      1. I socialize with people across the political spectrum but I avoid garbage people. There’s bunches of pictures of Princess Taylor slumming it with someReason-rabble.

        1. At Cato no less Reason, Niskanen and the future NYTs junior style editor:

          SPOTTED: Grover Norquist, Katherine Mangu Ward, Elizabeth Nolan Brown, Stephanie Slade, Robby Soave, Asawin Suebsaeng, Jason Russell, Tim Mak, Betsy Woodruff and Jonathan Swan, Rob Pegoraro, Eric Boehm, Taylor Lorenz, David Boaz, John A. Allison, Mark Calabria, Walter Olson, Ilya Shapiro, Peter Goettler, Brink Lindsey, Gene Healy, Benny Johnson, Autria Godfrey, Paul Lindsay, Jodie Curtis, Veronique de Rugy, and William Ruger.

          1. I retract my comment. You really follow these people, which is kind of odd.

            1. You mean you were wrong again because you enjoy looking stupid.

              1. Never fun being wrong but i admit when I am.

                JesseAz cannot say the same.

                You rarely ever make any statement of substance, so it’s hard for you to go wrong.

                1. “Never fun being wrong but i admit when I am.”

                  Once.
                  Tell us about that cop again, TDS-addled lefty shit.

              2. Wow. Can I even support Cato any more? WTF is happening in bizarro world

            2. How is that odd, Wormtongue?

        2. Yeah, but reason is friends with South Park! Pretty cool, right? Haha.

          “Smug alert” is the best episode.

    2. Isn’t Taylor Lorenz the one who’s now on a crusade to attack any competing social media platform where she doesn’t have a following, and in addition, just locked her own twitter account after refusing to apologize for spreading misinformation on twitter?

    3. Glenn Greenwald on Lauren Wolfe getting fired after she creamed herself over Joe Biden’s plane arriving and her subsequently deleted tweet about Trump taking his own plane being ‘horrifying’ when Joe Biden did the same thing:

      People thought she was fired because of me, like I have some power to get a NYT editor fired with one tweet. Trust me, if I had that power, 95% of the New York Time staff would be cleaning out their desk this morning.

      1. He’s gotten in their head almost as bad as Trump.

        1. There’s nothing more embarrassing to progressives than an actual liberal.

          1. The fifty bucks I spent on subscribing to Glenn’s substack is well worth it. He has been absolutely merciless in his honesty regarding those he refers to as “neoliberals,” which has the same vile connotation on the left as “neocon” has on the right.

  8. It only took 30 years from the fall of the Berlin Wall for American elites to develop Stasi envy.

    What the hell went wrong?

    1. We ridiculed McCarthy and dismissed his warnings as the stuff of crazy and paranoid?

    2. It took that long for public education to indoctrinate a whole generation into loving totalitarianism.

  9. Start your own social media platform! But don’t you dare start your own social media platform!

  10. Getting rid of Section 230 would be the quickest way to shutdown speech the government does not like. It would be the death of Clubhouse (as well as the Reason commentariat).

    1. Lol. God damn you have no understanding what 230 does. Removing it just allows people to sue them you fucking halfwit. It doesn’t suddenly allow government to mandate shit. That would require other laws. God damn.

    2. Just like it was from 1990-1996 when the government controlled everything that was posted on the worldwide web, and 4 companies controlled virtually all content distribution.

      Oh wait, it wasn’t actually like that at all. We had distributed communications unencumbered by government snooping and no walled garden platforms where users got fucked on the daily by companies violating their own TOS with impunity and colluding with other industries to deprive their competitors of business services.

      Congrats on having no fucking clue what Section 230 does and also being a historically illiterate bootlicking Nazi piece of shit. I sure hope you don’t contract stomach cancer and die the slowest, most painful death imaginable or anything like that.

      1. But Section 230 doesn’t do that. The snooping and censorship is happening because the law is being ignored with impunity.

  11. Bullies are bullies. Whether they are playground bullies beating up kids for their lunch money, or powerful journalists wanting to suppress speech they don’t like. Our Founders understood that at the end of the day, everyone wants to be a bully, especially a righteous bully. Thus, the whole basis for the 1st Amendment and the diffuse power of the federal government with so many checks and balances.

    We are at a time where culture is both encouraging and accepting of righteous acts in order to “do right” without the slightest bit of awareness that almost all atrocities in the history of humankind were predicated on such acts to “do right.”

    Humans will always use power and righteousness over others whenever we can. The goal is to pushback against such actions and lift up the higher ideals that organizations like the ACLU held before political ideologies and retributions became such allowed driving forces.

    1. ^VERY WELL SAID.

  12. The day the Fact-Checking community took the terms science & fact and dragged them through the swamps of woke narratives, baffling delusions, wild imaginations, conspiracy theories and ended up completely destroying any respect for either term.

    Evil agenda’s have no room for respectable science or fact. Why every totalitarian regime maintains full control of the media. The red-pill must be banned at any cost.

  13. Ah, the internet wouldn’t exist w/o the magic of Section 230.
    Well, a moderated internet wouldn’t

  14. “CH has no policies or guidelines against disinformation”.

    Hell, Taylor, neither does your employer.

    1. Ahahahahahahahahaha

  15. Nobody cares, kill Section 230.

  16. Wait until these people find out some people still have in-person conversations. Not all of us are so damn self-obsessed and self-centered that we think every word we say needs to be immortalized on Twitter.

    1. They think everyone else in the country is hiding in their bedroom by themselves with 3 masks on their face obsessively checking social media 16 hours a day like they are.

  17. “Extremism’ is a word deliberately chosen for its vagueness and used by intellectual slobs who are too desperate, sneaky or lazy to say exactly what they mean. Its only purpose is to deliberately try to confuse the difference between people who are extremely good (usually because of devotion to their principles) with people who are extremely bad. The sleazeballs who use this supposedly scary, yet undefined word are not only trying to smear people of conviction and integrity, but they’re also trying to divert attention away from the fact that they are obviously not people of principle themselves.” ~ Rick Gaber

  18. Ahahahahahahahahaha Bevis

  19. In fact, “there is no way to prove that someone said anything controversial at all,” the article notes, citing Grit Daily’s Olivia Smith.

    Well there goes ~ 90% of the Democrat’s tools to destroy people.

    1. The whole idea that saying something controversial is a problem is the root of this mess.

  20. Like Beijing Joe said, if it is ok with China it is ok with me. The left in the USA are no different then the Communist in China. Controlling thought and words is how they take over. As the loss of liberties increase I wonder if voter remorse will increase of if Biden supporters will actually submit willingly?

    1. See mask mandates and house arrest for healthy people for your answer.

    2. C’mon man. What’s a little liberty when Hunter needs a new laptop. Gotta keep that ne’er do well kid a mine busy. I can manage the hell out of China when we do the, you know, thing. Gosh I miss Beau.

  21. What Clubhouse? The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse?

  22. I hope the people on clubhouse are dumb enough to believe they can’t be recorded.

  23. Recording memories isn’t coercion. Threatening cancelling, erasing and persecution for exercising your inalienable 1a right is.

    Through cancelling we have lost free speech and are unable to get it back using the speech we lost. Just like communist China.

    This isn’t in anyone’s interest. The people who violate the rights of others may lose their right to life. Who’s right?

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