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New York Times report on Clubhouse app panned for sounding alarm about 'unfettered conversations'

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A New York Times article co-authored by tech and internet culture reporter Taylor Lorenz is being mocked for sounding the alarm about a growing social media app and the ability of its users to have “unfettered conversations.”

Clubhouse is an invite-only, audio-driven platform where users can attend chatrooms and listen to speakers. The format has attracted big names in tech and entertainment to Clubhouse over the past year, and the Times report described the platform as “becoming a town square for debates over free speech and politics.” 

“In the process, Clubhouse has generated debate about whether audio is the next wave of social media, moving digital connections beyond text, photos and videos to old-fashioned voice,” said the article, which was first published Monday. “In thousands of chatrooms every day, Clubhouse’s users have conducted unfettered conversations on subjects as varied as astrophysics, geopolitics, queer representation in Bollywood and even cosmic poetry.”

The report also claims Clubhouse is “contending with rising complaints about harassment, misinformation and privacy.” 

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“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,” the Times warned. “Clubhouse has a ‘blocking’ feature to give users more control over their spaces. That has in turn sometimes created disputes about access, including with a New York Times journalist.”

The Times later promoted the article on Twitter, summarizing it thus: “Unfettered conversations are taking place on Clubhouse, an invitation-only app that lets people gather in audio chatrooms. The platform has exploded in popularity, despite grappling with concerns over harassment, misinformation and privacy.”

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Critics mocked the Times for sounding the alarm on “unfettered conversations” and had some fun at the expense of Lorenz. 

“I knew the author before clicking,” radio host Erick Erickson reacted to the tweet. 

“Same,” Ricochet editor Bethany Mandel agreed. 

“Imagine being the New York Times. That history. The role you played justifying the First Amendment. Imagine your staff is now turbo woke and squeaks at the slightest ‘microaggression.’ Then imagine publishing these two words beside each other: Unfettered conversations,” Daily Caller editor-in-chief Geoffrey Ingersoll wrote.

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“Unfettered conversations. Goodness me,” political scientist Ian Bremmer mocked.

“‘Unfettered conversations…’ — Sounds sinister,”  “The Fifth Column” podcast co-host Kmele Foster similarly joked. 

“It’s okay, Taylor Lorenz is here to bring the fetters,” The Federalist publisher and Fox News contributor Ben Domenech quipped. 

“Did you know that *right now* people are having conversations that aren’t monitored by journalists or governments? Occasionally feelings are hurt and human nature is on display. This terrifying menace must be stopped!” RealClearInvestigations senior writer Mark Hemingway exclaimed.

Last week, Lorenz faced heavy backlash after she falsely accused business tech entrepreneur Marc Andreessen of using the “r-slur” on Clubhouse. 

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Days later, after she was fact-checked by critics, the reporter issued a formal mea culpa. 

“On Saturday, Ben Horowitz, a co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz, used a term during a public event on Clubhouse,” she wrote. “I mistakenly attributed the use of this term to Marc Andreessen, his partner and a co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz. I regret the error and deleted the tweet.”

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