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How to guard the buzzy Clubhouse

February 25, 2021, 2:00 PM UTC

It seems like every week a noteworthy person debuts on Clubhouse, the buzzy new audio social app. The latest heavy hitter to join? Bill Gates, who last night spoke about the coronavirus vaccine, Bitcoin, and his new book on climate change.

The Microsoft co-founder’s debut on the app follows appearances from the likes of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, and Robinhood CEO Vlad Tenev. It’s become the place to be for tech elites, venture capitalists, and nearly everyone in between (podcaster Joe Rogan also made an appearance last week). 

But at the rapid rate it’s growing, Clubhouse is likely to run into some problems. How many times have we heard the story of the scrappy startup that created a shiny new toy with the best intentions only for it to become riddled with issues for which it didn’t prepare? Ahem, Facebook, Twitter, Parler … shall I go on?

Clubhouse has already been downloaded 12.2 million times globally since its debut last year, according to mobile analytics firm Sensor Tower. Meanwhile, public relations agencies are reportedly hiring “clubhouse managers,” who are responsible for helping schedule, manage expectations, and strategize for clients on the app. All of this is happening while Clubhouse is still limited to people who have been invited by others to the app. And it’s still only available on iOS devices. 

But the app already has had trouble keeping its audio private. Earlier this week, a user was able to stream audio from multiple chat rooms on the app to a third-party website, according to Bloomberg. Though streaming audio from the app is against the rules, it’s unclear if the app can actually prevent that from happening in the future. 

Let’s not forget that these conversations are live on the app, meaning that harassment, hate speech, and bullying will be difficult to proactively stop. And as Aaron previously mentioned, a user named “Brad Pitt” recently spoke on the app only to reveal at the end of the conversation that, surprise, he wasn’t Brad Pitt. The impersonation raises questions about how the app will manage people pretending to be someone else. 

Clubhouse does have a set of rules aimed at policing these types of issues, and it reserves the power to kick users off the service if they violate those rules. It also records the audio in each room, temporarily saving them in case any users report a violation. But that puts the onus of content moderation on users, which has caused problems for social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

To avoid the mistakes of its social media predecessors, Clubhouse would’ve been wise to develop a robust content moderation plan and system yesteryear. The question now: Is it already too late?

Danielle Abril
@DanielleDigest
danielle.abril@fortune.com

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In the last few years, e-sports has seen tremendous growth. In 2018, over 100 million people watched the League of Legends World Championship Finals, held in South Korea, which beat viewership of the Super Bowl that year. During the pandemic, even more fans have been flocking to events online. On today’s Brainstorm podcast, hosts Michal Lev-Ram and Brian O’Keefe explore just how big e-sports have become. Listen to the podcast here.

NEWSWORTHY

Time to buy some news, eh? Following its decision to ban and then not ban news in Australia, Facebook is now reportedly working to solidify news deals in Canada, according to Reuters. Canada is planning to introduce legislation similar to Australia’s new law, which passed on Wednesday, that requires Internet services to pay for news. In response to Australia’s then-proposed law, Facebook first banned news in the country. But following continued discussions with the government and some minor changes to the law, Facebook ultimately restored news in Australia.

Parler’s puppet master. As conservative social media site Parler tries to find its footing after coming back online, we’re learning who’s pulling the strings of the company. Turns out, it's founding investor Rebekah Mercer, the big-time Republican political donor who holds a majority stake in Parler, reports The Washington Post. And since the company ousted its founding CEO John Matze and appointed a new leader in Tea Party activist Mark Meckler, Mercer is reportedly tightening the reins. 

TikTok block. Facebook and Twitter aren’t the only social networks battling misinformation. In a previous Data Sheet, I explored how TikTok is trying to combat the issue with a new label it rolled out. But on Wednesday, the social network, which first became popular among teens doing dance challenges, revealed a little more about the extent of the problem on its service. During the second half of the year, TikTok said it removed more than 340,000 videos in the U.S. for election misinformation. It also removed more than 441,000 videos from its “For You” recommendation tab for misinformation.

Parental control. YouTube is expected to roll out a new option for parents who want to restrict what their tweens and teens watch on the app. Parents will be able to set up a managed account, expected to debut in the next few months, for their children, who will not be able to upload videos, comment on videos, or view specific types of content as part of the restrictions. Parents will also be able to review the viewing and search history for the managed accounts, as well as set timers for how long they can use the app. The new accounts are aimed to bridge between YouTube Kids and YouTube.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Big Tech companies, especially Google and Facebook, are embroiled in the antitrust battle that could become an existential crisis for them. And they want to do all the things while being perceived as politically neutral, civically responsible, and masters at digital ads. But Zephyr Teachout, associate professor at Fordham Law School, says this is impossible. And because the companies will likely continue down this path without intervention, the government must step in and find them a new business model, he says. Breaking up the companies, or repealing Section 230, the law that protects Internet services from being held liable for what their users post, are not enough and don’t address the ultimate problem. Instead, a different solution may be more effective, Teachout writes in article for The Atlantic.

“The real way forward—bear with me—is making these companies look a bit more like the platforms that 230 envisioned; that is, forcing them to embrace their role as essential infrastructure.

This is the path that the United States has taken in the past when faced with privately owned goods or services that have become indispensable to public life—such as roads and railroads—and the path that has defined its approach to communications infrastructure in particular. State statutes from the mid-18th century required telegraph companies to treat all comers equally. Graham Bell got a telephone patent in the 1870s; when it expired in the 1890s, the telephone industry took off in the U.S. Then in 1910, Congress passed the Mann-Elkins Act, regulating the telephone-service providers as “common carriers” because of their central role in communication. They could still be privately owned, but they took on a public obligation not to discriminate among different users,” he writes.

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BEFORE YOU GO

Good news, Roomba owners. Your little sweepy friends that have been acting drunk in recent days are about to sober up! iRobot, the company that makes the automated Roomba vacuums, is expected to roll out a software update in the next several weeks to correct an issue in some its i7 and s9 models, according to The Verge. Apparently, the little robots have been spinning around, bumping into furniture, and have had trouble making it back home to their docks (sound familiar?).  We’ve all heard the cautionary tales about robots and the expectation that they could someday have human-like features. But drunken robots? Who knew?