A private, invitation-only social media app that emerged during the coronavirus lockdown as the top virtual hangout for venture capitalists and tech entrepreneurs along with the occasional celebrity found itself mired in accusations of antisemitism this week, after users allegedly invoked classical stereotypes during an online discussion about relations between Jews and African Americans.
Live audio app Clubhouse — a favored haunt of “venture capitalists and other Silicon Valley insiders,” according to Bloomberg News — hosted a virtual conversation on the subject of “Antisemitism and Black Culture” that was attended by more than 300 participants on Monday night.
Some of those present reported that antisemitic tropes linking Jews with commerce and finance were repeatedly invoked during the conversation.
“The Jewish community does business with their enemies; the Black community is enslaved by their enemies,” one member reportedly said.
One attendee — a tech startup founder who didn’t want to be named for fear of attracting the disapproval of his investors — told Business Insider that the “essential thesis of a lot of the folks was that Jewish people and Black people face the same amount of historical trauma but because [Jewish people] control the banking system they were able to claim their own reparations.”
Another pointed out that the discussion, which lasted until the early hours of Tuesday, took place just after Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.
“It’s a day of grief and reckoning and fasting and introspection, so that makes a conversation like this have a higher emotional charge than it may otherwise,” she said.
Entrepreneur Sara Mauskopf reported on Twitter that she listened in for only three minutes, but heard enough in that time to close the app and leave the discussion.
“There’s a room on clubhouse right now that is literally just a bunch of people talking about why it’s ok to hate Jews so I’m done with that app for awhile,” tweeted Mauskopf, who runs a daycare-finder service named Winnie.
There’s a room on clubhouse right now that is literally just a bunch of people talking about why it’s ok to hate jews so I’m done with that app for awhile
— Sara Mauskopf (@sm) September 29, 2020
Stumble out of the Yom Kippur fast and into a Clubhouse room with some vague anti-Semitism going (mostly your standard lefty BDS/anti-Zionist tropes).
“I just pounded two beers, two slices of pizza, and a tikka masala burrito…I’m ready to fight for the Jewish people!”
— Antonio García Martínez (@antoniogm) September 29, 2020
Clubhouse allows its users to drop in and out of different chat rooms and hear the live audio of conversations among other users, or panel discussions on certain topics. Some users have criticized the app for the light moderation of conversations, which have led to bullying and harassment. In the case of Monday’s discussion, the moderator — software engineer and progressive activist Ashoka Finley — offered an apology without specifically mentioning the complaint of antisemitism.
“I apologize to anyone who felt threatened or harmed by anything said in the Clubhouse (CH) room I started tonight,” Finley tweeted. “I had no intention of negativity.”
I apologize to anyone who felt threatened or harmed by anything said in the CH room I started tonight. I had no intention of negativity.
— ashoka finley (@lifesupremacist) September 29, 2020
Clubhouse was recently valued at $100 million, thanks to an investment from leading West Coast VC firm Andreessen Horowitz.
The company’s founders, Paul Davison and Rohan Seth, have not made any comment regarding Monday night’s allegations.
Dave Sifry — vice president of the Center for Technology and Society at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) — told The Algemeiner, “We continue to be concerned about the antisemitism and hate speech being encountered daily by users on social media platforms both old and new. The Clubhouse discussion is only the latest illustration of the problem. If these hateful expressions are not addressed early, they will only grow and harm more people.”
“All social media companies have a responsibility to ensure that their communities are respectful and inclusive spaces for all people,” he added. “The fact that Clubhouse is currently in closed beta means it can tackle the problems of hate and harassment on its platform before it ramps up — if the company is willing.”
“It is commendable that Clubhouse has community guidelines, but without consistent enforcement, such guidelines lose their meaning. To prevent further incidents such as the widely reported antisemitic discussion, Clubhouse must demonstrate a more meaningful commitment to addressing hate on its platform, including how it plans to address the unique challenges of audio content moderation at scale,” Sifry concluded.
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