Clubhouse is blowing up, to the extent that people are selling invites to the exclusive app. Only available on iPhone, Clubhouse is technically still in beta mode so it's not freely available to join. Each user has a limited amount of invite codes to bring friends on to the app, you begin with two and then you gradually earn more invites the more active you are.
However, people aren’t saving those invites for their besties. An entire subreddit dedicated to the selling of Clubhouse invites that has amassed 2.8k followers, as well as a Reddit thread with 4.8k comments, and we’ve seen listings on eBay, Craigslist, and private Facebook groups like The Basement. The invites aren't selling for crazy amounts — anywhere from $20 to $50 dollars seems to be the average range (though some have gone for as much as $125 on eBay). But 100 percent profit isn’t bad.
Unlike other social media networks, Clubhouse is audio-only and consists of "rooms" where people interview each other — essentially it's like an online conference where the panelists are celebrities like Drake, Tiffany Haddish, or Virgil Abloh. The app launched last April and has already been downloaded 3.6 million times — 1.1 million in the last six days alone.
The boost in downloads can largely be attributed to Elon Musk jumping on the app last Sunday. His appearance was so popular that almost immediately his room was full (you can only have 5,000 concurrent listeners at a time) and it spawned two "overflow" rooms where users could listen in on the CEO. Things got even more hyped when, during his interview, Musk suddenly called upon the CEO of Robinhood, Vlad Tenev, and asked him to explain why Robinhood stopped users from buying Gamestop stocks.
Shortly after Musk's interview, the hashtag Clubhouse invite code was trending on Chinese social media site Weibo, and users started selling invite codes ranging from 150 Yuan to 400 Yuan on e-commerce sites Xianyu and Taobao. This is despite the app not technically being available to download in the country (users can access it by switching to a non-Chinese Apple account).
According to Quartz, part of the app's appeal in China is the freedom — Clubhouse is still under the radar enough that it's not (yet) blocked by the government so people can use the space to discuss censored topics. Tech reporter Jane Li quotes one Weibo user asking, “So the reason for the craze about Clubhouse is because we finally can find a corner to (temporarily) talk freely?"
While Chinese users might join the app for its lack of moderation, in the US, Clubhouse has been accused of not doing enough to control hate speech and harassment on the platform. The app has been accused of nurturing misogynoir, sexism, racism, and Anti-Semitism. Because there isn't any text, it's difficult for moderators to be able to flag content and unlike Twitter or Facebook there are no efforts to counter misinformation or comment sections for audience members to call it out on their own. Case in point, a discussion on “Anti-Semitism and Black Culture,” which very quickly veered into anti-Semitic tropes.
The hierarchy of the rooms also poses a challenge, as Vanity Fair puts it, "pseudo-intellectual monologues from powerful users can go unchecked, leaving them free to promote racist ideas under the guise of posing legitimate questions or playing devil’s advocate." As more invites get shared or sold, the need for moderation will only increase.