Clubhouse, a Tiny Audio Chat App, Breaks Through

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SAN FRANCISCO — Robert Van Winkle, who is healthier referred to as the rapper Vanilla Ice, held court docket on-line final week with greater than 1,000 followers.

In a rambling dialog, Mr. Van Winkle praised the poses of the 1990s band Bell Biv DeVoe and demurred when requested about his relationship with Madonna. He disbursed recommendation on actual property and life, saying, “You got to protect your happiness to protect your life.” At one level, an attendee serenaded the gathering with an a cappella model of his hit “Ice Ice Baby.”

Several hours later, Mr. Van Winkle confessed that he wanted to depart earlier than the mom of his little one obtained indignant.

It was the sort of freewheeling and unpredictable occasion that has been taking place across the clock on Clubhouse, an 11-month-old social media app that has exploded in recognition with the tastemakers of tech and standard tradition and that’s rapidly turning into a city sq. for debates over free speech and politics.

TikTok influencers, YouTube stars and cast members of “The Bachelor” soon became active on the app. It also spawned its own stars, with some people on its “suggested user list” amassing more than one million followers. In December, Clubhouse unveiled an invitation-only “creator pilot program” to help so-called power users make money on the app.

“People are already building brands,” said Sheel Mohnot, 38, founder of Better Tomorrow Ventures, who has 1.2 million followers on the app. “There’s all these Clubhouse shows. Some of those shows I’ve seen are sponsored.” (Mr. Davison and Mr. Seth have said the company plans to make money through ticketed events, subscriptions and tipping, but will not sell ads.)

Credit…via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The growth has been accompanied by criticism that women and people of color are frequent targets of abuse and that discussions involving anti-Semitism, homophobia, racism and misogyny are on the rise.

Porsha Belle, 32, a Clubhouse influencer in Houston, said that after she spoke up about misogyny on the app, people formed rooms to encourage one another to report her account so she would be barred. Her account was suspended last Monday.

She said she had tried appealing to the company, but found little recourse. “My page is suspended while the bullies get to roam free,” she said.

Rachelle Dooley, 40, a social media manager in Austin, Texas, who is deaf, said she had been blocked and kicked out of some Clubhouse rooms.

A few days later, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, turned up to chat about virtual and augmented reality. Then China banned the app.

On Sunday, 5,000 people — the maximum in a Clubhouse room — attended a weekly “town hall” session with the founders. Mr. Davison joined late because he had been in another room welcoming Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia, to the app.

“We’re just trying to keep up,” Mr. Davison said.

Adam Satariano contributed reporting.

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