If there’s anything that has gotten me through this awful year, it’s TikTok. With a “For You” page customized to what makes me laugh in the middle of an awful day or what inspires me to try a new recipe, TikTok has helped me and millions of others survive quarantine.
Since 2018, the number of TikTok users grew about 800%. As of April 2020, there were about 2 billion downloads of the app worldwide. TikTok is still reigning as one of the most popular mobile apps across the globe, with about 62 million installations just this year.
Recently however, there’s been new talk amongst social media users about an app called Clubhouse, an exclusive and invite-only audio chat room created by Paul Davison and Rohan Seth. In Clubhouse, there are moderated discussion rooms that are composed of speakers and listeners who engage in a discourse about a myriad of topics from sports to the stock market. The moderator monitors these discussions and can allow someone to speak or can remove those ruining the climate of a discussion room. As of right now, to get on the app, one must be invited by an existing user. These existing users include Silicon Valley technology giants like Mark Zuckerberg and media personalities like Oprah Winfrey. So it’ll be a while until you and I can get on the app.
Entering a Clubhouse discussion room is like tuning into a live podcast on a topic of your choosing. There’s no pressure to produce quality content or turn on your camera. Many are convinced that Clubhouse will be the next large social media platform, blowing TikTok out of the water. However, I’m not.
TikTok is an app that allows anyone to be a creator of content that ranges from trendy dances to hilarious memes to exercise routines. Social media prior to Tiktok has always been divided between influencers like the Kardashians and the influenced. However, Sophia Smith Galer of BBC points out that “with an app like TikTok, your funny video has as much higher chance of going around the world as the next person’s, whether they have 0 followers or 100,000.” Yes, there are TikTok stars like Charlie D’Amelio and Addison Rae who get the most views and likes, but anyone on TikTok can be a creator and influencer, regardless of age.
Clubhouse on the other hand is a more sophisticated app with a focus on discourse via audio rather than texts, videos or pictures. While Clubhouse stimulates meaningful discussion amongst users, the app is very selective. Clubhouse creators wrote in their Apple App Store description that “anyone can get [an invite] by joining the waitlist, or by asking an existing user for one.” With existing users like Elon Musk and Drake, how can anyone possibly get in? Clubhouse’s selectivity reminds me of that impenetrable friend group in middle school. The app creates a larger divide between celebrities and fans. At least on media platforms like TikTok or Instagram, individuals can follow their favorite A-listers and keep up with them through lives, stories and posts.
The irony however is that Clubhouse is gaining huge interest for being a platform built on exclusivity and hierarchy, principles that counter the inclusivity and accessibility of TikTok. Individuals are dying to join the app not because of the interesting discussions they can have but so that they can simply be in the company of A-listers. The craze has reached a point where there’s a black market of selling invites on Twitter, Cragistlist and Reddit. There have been reports of invites being sold for hundreds of dollars on eBay.
Social media is all about creating a positive community, having conversations and building connections.
While Davison and Seth claim that they’re aiming for an open-access model one day, its current exclusivity is creating a toxic virtual platform that mimics real world elitism. The club’s current selectivity promotes division and social stratifications. It’s a shame because the app’s basis of stimulating thought-provoking, global conversation is just what we need in this day and age where travel and sincere human interaction is just not the same as before COVID-19.