Social media platforms and apps have played a huge role in the Middle East. Going back to the days of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings and the huge role Facebook and Twitter played at the time. There are so many reasons why Arabs gravitate towards these apps and platforms. One reason being that us Arabs tend to live vicariously through our Western counterparts. We’re consumed by Western pop culture. We get drunk off their trends and behaviors. We fantasize about living in a Western society. And so, once we get our hands on their technology, we are quick to mimic their behaviors, that we’ve witnessed on these apps. Monkey see monkey do.
Apps and social media platforms have run rampant throughout the Middle East. So too have their liberal undertones, democratic dialogue, debate and discourse. As a response, many Middle Eastern countries have limited or even banned the use of these popular apps. There is a lot controversy swirls behind the founders of these technologies, and their main intentions. Yet it is worth noting that having tools such as Twitter and Facebook, are essential in Arab countries, where freedom of speech is rare, and if it exists, it’s abused or stifled.
It’s also unfortunate to see how even these platforms for free speech fall victim to stifling expression because a certain opinion is deemed “inappropriate”. In the most recent spotlight occurrence, there’s the Donald Trump Twitter fiasco. There are other occurences, but they most of they won’t receive the same media shine.
Then along came Clubhouse, an app that became popular as an open-to-all chatroom that hosted successful billionaire business tycoons like Elon Musk. And where average Joes, or in our case average Moes, can join in on the chat, and maybe even get to speak to the Mars-Man himself.
As I continued to ask what is Clubhouse, I decided to try it out for myself, and give the app a go. Keeping in mind that, I am not an app enthusiast -I never downloaded TikTok nor do I plan on ever doing so. I use most apps with disdain, knowing that they consume way too much of time and provide very little in return. Yet I still use these apps for a lot of reasons I don’t want to get to into right now.
For three days straight since downloading the app I spent hours a day on Clubhouse. But it was after just the first 30 minutes of using it where I came to two conclusions. One, Clubhouse is not only a great app, it is the best app out now. And two, Arab countries are going to have a huge problem with it.
We have seen how social media apps like Facebook and Twitter have succumbed to some of the suspect practices of speech supression in the Middle East. Twitter till this day refuses to do anything about the army of Twitter bots and fake spam accounts that flood each and every oneof our timelines, purposefully pushing a private political agenda And so a dip in user experience has left people like you and me in search of an app that provide a space away from invested interference and where true conversation can transpire.
And although the app is still in Beta phase (Clubhouse is only available on iPhone for now), it offers a lot of uniqueness and benefits. Its algorithm is simple and satisfying. As soon as you build a big enough following your are consumed with chatrooms that pique your interests. Unlike its rivals, Clubhouse doesn’t put any emphasis on shallow features like images, or “likes.” You are there to connect, network, and communicate with other people. In the short period that I’ve been on Clubhouse I bounced around chatrooms from start up ideas, to investor meet ups, Lebanon topics, Middle East politics, gender rights, sexuality, and any of the other hot topics that dominate the world stage every day.
Each room has people with different backgrounds voicing their opinion. It is very unlike Twitter, where opinions come cheap, and users can hide behind unilateral dialogue limited to 280 characters. On Clubhouse you are rid of the restraints that many other social media apps force onto you. In a chatroom with an audience, and with the spotlight on you, the nerve-racking pressure of public speaking creeps in. The last thing you want is to sound like a bigot, ill-informed or a complete dumbass. So before asking speak, you have to be sure of what you’re going to say, and be prepared to defend your point.
Clubhouse is a not your prototypical social media app. It is a platform that promotes a clear purpose. We don’t care about your filters. We don’t care about the amount of likes you get. We care about one thing. We want to see if you believe in the shit you peddle to the point where you can say it with confidence in front of a group of random individuals. All while respecting the common rules of dialogue monitored by the rest of the group members and the moderator, who holds the power to silence your microphone if you’re being disrespectful.
This type of level headed, fair, open floor, moderate dialogue and discussion is what makes Clubhouse a member-magnet, and an essential platform for the rest of the world but especially for the Middle East. A region where freedom of speech is -to be straightforward- not tolerated. Where the media wears its bias like a badge of honor. Where usage of big name social media apps is often restricted or banned.
Clubhouse offers yet another alternative for individuals yearning to communicate with other individuals, whether it is to voice frustration, seek solitude, or just meet new and interesting people. I wouldn’t be surprised if Clubhouse gets banned in most of the Arab world, because of the risk it poses to the control of freedom of expression. Nor would I be surprised if Clubhouse gets lost in the sauce of the billions of dollars in investment interest, and loses much of the appeal that has made it such a success so far. But what does surprise me is how the app has resonated with a lot of people from a lot of different backgrounds. How it has been able to provide the closest thing to perfect online communication as we ever thought was possible. And if it manages to stay the course, Clubhouse is -without a doubt- the next game-changing app in the Middle East.
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