The New York Times reported on Wednesday that Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) may be working on a rival program that will compete with Clubhouse, a popular new social media app that allows users to engage in voice chats in front of a digital audience. As one of the few audio-only communication platforms on the market right now, its popularity has piqued interest among Silicon Valley elites like Mark Zuckerberg, who has an account on the platform.
Though the project is pretty hush hush at the moment, a Facebook spokesperson did reveal in a statement to the New York Times that it is “always exploring new ways to improve that experience for people,” regarding its audio and video technologies. Since Facebook created a copycat of Snapchat’s Stories feature in the late 2010’s and again with the addition of Instagram Reels to compete with TikTok in 2020, a competitor to Clubhouse—the next rising star in the social media world—would be a likely move. There are, however, some kinks to work out with a live audio platform that Clubhouse itself hasn’t quite figured out.
Similar to a live podcast, Clubhouse grew its platform by maintaining its “available by invite only” policy that requires someone to be invited by an existing user before they can make an account. By leveraging its network of Silicon Valley stars in both technology and venture capital (some of Clubhouse’s early investors are some of the most popular accounts on the app today), the social media app was able to establish itself as an exclusive gathering place for elite, career-focused professionals.
The idea behind Clubhouse, while good in concept, poses some difficulties when it comes to moderating the content on the app. Clubhouse doesn’t yet have a robust moderation system in place—a problem that has demonstrated itself as urgent amid several recent controversies regarding the spread of hate speech and misinformation. Some rooms dedicated to conspiracy theories, for example, have been found to share vaccine and other COVID-19 misinformation. Since moderators are often participants themselves (each room is required to have a moderator, though there are no criteria users need to meet before they can moderate content), the tight knit social circles that rule the app and its popular rooms have become a breeding ground for the hate speech, misinformation and bullying that other social media apps have—at least to some degree—banned and removed.
Facebook, which already struggles with successfully moderating content on its several services, would likely have to present a Clubhouse rival with a plan to moderate the content on the app. Live content—as Facebook learned in 2019 when the New Zealand Mosque shooter live streamed his attack on the platform—is notoriously hard to moderate because viewers may not report the content in real time.
It remains unconfirmed that Facebook is working on a Clubhouse rival and the company did not immediately respond to Grit Daily’s request for comment, but its investment into new audio and video technologies is a strong indicator that the idea is, at least, on the horizon.
Other updates and expansions to Facebook services show that the company is likely struggling to come up with new ways to stay relevant in an ever-changing industry. The company’s launch of Instagram Reels has been successful, but TikTok users argue that the product is half as good as TikTok’s and doesn’t integrate seamlessly with Instagram as a whole.
Instagram also recently revealed that it wouldn’t boost Reels content that has TikTok watermarks. The move was a clear effort to force creators to make videos for Instagram Reels specifically instead of letting them re-post their TikTok content for additional reach. Because Reels’ release was timed with the potential ban of TikTok in the United States, creators used the feature to share their TikTok content easily—though Reels only allows for 30 second video rather than TikTok which offers 60 seconds.
Meanwhile, Instagram made another significant shift in 2020 to support e-commerce on a widespread scale. Today, as an Etsy/TikTok hybrid that also integrates with WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, Instagram’s current landscape is virtually indistinguishable from what it once was—a strong visual platform that was on track to dominate the marketing industry in the 2020’s after changing it forever in the 2010’s.
Social media users often credit Facebook’s changes to Instagram—which functions largely as a virtual shopping mall these days—as what pushed them onto other platforms in the first place. TikTok, which is notorious for encouraging growth, makes it easy for creators to get their content shown to new audiences through its For You Page. Instagram’s implementation of Reels left out this crucial part of TikTok’s model, instead adding ony another video sharing opportunity to Instagram—which already had Instagram TV and the ability to share videos to your timeline. If it all sounds confusing and messy, that’s because it is.
A new feature to rival Clubhouse would mean that Facebook is, once again, looking to focus on how it can keep up with the ever-changing social media landscape by making drastic changes instead of updating its existing infrastructure to—well, be better. Without perfecting the product it has already, adding in more features might only serve to further weaken Instagram and Facebook in the future.