This very public episode exposed that Clubhouse, at least in this nascent state, had given little thought to policing the discussions that occur on its platform. For people learning about Clubhouse for the first time, it was a disastrous introduction. On this week’s popular The Pivot podcast, Scott Galloway, an investor often critical of VC culture, pretty much declared that the Andreessen Horowitz investment in Clubhouse was sunken money. I might not go that far, but I feel that its chances to succeed have plummeted dramatically.
One might have expected the Clubhouse founders to publicly declare that their app is intended to be a place where everyone feels safe, and announce firm protections against harassment, as well as strict moderation guidelines. But they have been silent. Those close to them offer rationalizations along the lines of the following: “We are a new company just trying things out with a limited audience. Overly harsh restrictions on speech might constrain our innovation. In any case, it is way too soon to judge us harshly in this experimental stage.”
That argument reminds me of Mark Zuckerberg’s frequent excuse that Facebook started in a dorm room and thus really can’t be blamed for failing to anticipate some of the global consequences of its policies. (In fact, within six months of its debut, Facebook was in Silicon Valley, funded and advised by some of the top minds in tech.) This doesn’t fly in 2020, when it is apparent to all that tech companies must be aware of potential abuses of their products, and that they will be judged harshly for ignoring this. When does a small company have to make sure its policies are strong enough and sufficiently enforced to prevent toxic consequences? Certainly at the point where its valuation reaches $100 million.Meanwhile, Clubhouse’s biggest fan will no longer be using her secret handshake to get into the audio sanctuary of the Silicon Valley elite. “I don’t plan on opening the app again,” says Lorenz. “I don’t want to support any network that doesn’t take user safety seriously.”
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