Anyone who has spent more than five minutes on social media can tell you that most platforms have a lot of trolls, reply people, and other people who might just be unpleasant to interact with. On major platforms such as Twitter, Faecbook, and Instagram, the option to block another user lets you keep someone out of your feed. Blocking is far from a perfect solution, but at least it gives users a way to keep using the platforms and avoid (some) annoying interactions.
But like Will Oremus prescribes The Atlantic Ocean, the year-old audio chat platform Clubhouse has a different blocking mechanism, one that affects more than just the blocker and the blockee (I know, but what would you call it?):
When you block someone in Clubhouse, it doesn’t just affect communication between the two of you, like on Facebook or Twitter. Rather, it limits the way that person can communicate with others as well. Once blocked, they cannot enter or even see any of the rooms you create or speak in – effectively blocking them from everyone else in that room. If you are brought ‘on stage’ from the audience to speak, someone else in the audience that you’ve blocked will be kept off stage as long as you’re up there. And if you are a moderator of a room, you can block a speaker and start them up in real time from the conversation, even if they are in the middle of a sentence.
So essentially a “black badge” on Clubhouse can limit who speaks where and when on the platform. As Oremus points out, blocking another person in Clubhouse is a social act that affects multiple interactions. And members of under-represented groups said blocking at Clubhouse could be “armed” to suppress certain views or restrict conversations:
One, a black woman in her 20s who is studying medicine, said she has been denied access to rooms where vaccination is discussed in black communities because an influential anti-vaxxer visiting those rooms blocked her. She also found herself abruptly excluded from a weekly newspaper WandaVision watch-party club that had become her favorite experience on the app, apparently because a member blocked her.
The buzz around Clubhouse – which drew 10 million users in its first year – does began to hiss a little; it only recently released a version for Android devices and new users can only join if invited by a current user. Add to that the rising popularity and superior accessibility of Twitter’s audio chat platform Spaces, and it looks like Clubhouse has a bumpy ride ahead. Read this analysis why the unusual blocking system can ultimately contribute to the deterioration of the platform.