Technology

Go read this look at how Clubhouse’s blocking system is problematic

Anyone who’s spent more than five minutes on social media can tell you that most platforms have plenty of trolls, reply-guys and other people who may just be unpleasant to interact with. On big platforms like Twitter, Faecbook, and Instagram, the option to block another user allows you to keep someone out of your feed. Blocking is far from a perfect solution, but at least it gives users a way to continue to use the platforms and avoid (some) nasty interactions.

But as Will Oremus writes for The Atlantic, the year-old audio chat platform Clubhouse has a different mechanism for blocking, one that affects more than just the blocker and the blockee (I know, but what would you call it?):

When you block someone on Clubhouse, it doesn’t just affect communications between the two of you, as it would on Facebook or Twitter. Rather, it limits the way that person can communicate with others too. Once blocked, they can’t join or even see any room that you create, or in which you are speaking—which effectively blocks them for everyone else in that room. If you’re brought “onstage” from the audience to speak, anyone else in the audience whom you have blocked will be kept off the stage for as long as you’re up there. And if you’re a moderator of a room, you can block a speaker and boot them from the conversation in real time—even if they’re mid-sentence.

So in essence, a “black badge” on Clubhouse can limit who speaks, where, and when on the platform. As Oremus notes, it’s a social act to block another person on Clubhouse, one that affects multiple interactions. And members of underrepresented groups said that blocking can be “weaponized” on Clubhouse, to squelch certain points of view or restrict conversations:

One, a Black woman in her 20s who’s studying medicine, said she has been barred from rooms discussing vaccination in Black communities, because one influential anti-vaxxer who frequents those rooms blocked her. She also found herself abruptly shut out of a weekly WandaVision watch-party club that had become her favorite experience on the app, evidently because one member had blocked her.

The buzz around Clubhouse— which attracted 10 million users in its inaugural year— has started to fizzle out a bit; it only recently released a version for Android devices, and new users can only join when invited by a current user. Add to that the rising popularity and superior accessibility of Twitter’s audio chat platform Spaces, and it seems Clubhouse may be in for a bumpy ride ahead. Go read this analysis of why its unusual blocking system may ultimately contribute to the platform’s decline.