Clubhouse chatrooms of hate and misogyny

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The story so far: “Muslims Gals are More Beautiful Than Hindu Gals (Gals Opinion”). This was the name of a discussion forum that was opened on the social audio app Clubhouse on January 17 — communal, but relatively mild words which the moderator even tagged as ‘opinion’. However, going by a recording that went viral on Twitter later, what transpired in that forum was anything but mild. As the language used is not fit to be reproduced here, we will paraphrase it as misogyny in the extremes, communalism, communalism targeting Muslim women in particular, misogyny targeting Hindu women, the promotion of rape, incest, and more. A moderator of this session went under the username ‘Kira XD’. Kira XD and several others from the session were also involved in another Clubhouse discussion on the same day named “Girls don’t have privilege to marry upper caste boys”, from where similar misogynistic remarks were recorded.

What are the police cases?

The recordings from the two sessions resulted in an outcry and police cases. The Mumbai Police have arrested three men, from Karnal in Haryana, including Akash Suyal (19) a.k.a. Kira XD. The arrest was based on a complaint from a Mumbai woman who stated that one of the arrested had hosted a Clubhouse session in November last year in which a female friend of hers was “auctioned.”

The Delhi Police have also gotten into the act after the Delhi Commission for Women issued a notice demanding action. They have filed an FIR against unknown persons and have questioned an 18-year-old from Uttar Pradesh who went by the username ‘Bismillah’. According to Delhi Police, he is the creator of the communal session and was present in the casteist session on Clubhouse.

The FIRs by the Delhi and Mumbai police involve IPC sections such as 153A (promoting enmity between two groups on grounds of religion, race); 295A (deliberate, malicious acts to outrage religious feelings); 354A (sexual harassment including making sexually coloured remarks); 354D (stalking, including online); 500 (defamation), 509 (words, gestures to insult the modesty of a woman). The charges also include those under Section 67 of IT Act 2000, which covers transmission of obscene material in electronic form.

Is Clubhouse culpable?

Clubhouse was all the rage in 2021, becoming an early player in the social audio space. The U.S.-based app created a wave with its by-invitation-only launch but soon fell down the ranks as more established social media players such as Twitter incorporated audio into their platforms. In recent months, there have been several reports of extremely problematic chatrooms on the app that dealt in communal and misogynist content.

Under India ‘s IT Act, Clubhouse is an ‘intermediary’ that hosts third-party content online. Such intermediaries enjoy the ‘safe harbour’ provided by Section 79 of the IT Act, which says that they cannot be held liable for the content on their platforms as long as they don’t initiate, choose the recipient, or moderate it. Facebook, Twitter and Google are all beneficiaries of this rule.

As per reports, Clubhouse also doesn’t qualify as a ‘significant social media intermediary’ in India. According to the new rules for intermediaries that came into effect on May 26, 2021, significant social media intermediaries who have over 50 lakh registered users in India need to appoint compliance officers and grievance redressal officers based in the country.

Clubhouses response to the current issue has been statements to various media outlets stating that there is no place for hate or abuse on its platform and that they take swift action against those who violates its terms and conditions.

How is hate being facilitated by technology?

The Clubhouse ‘chat’ cases come at a time when the atmosphere has already been vitiated by the recent “Bulli Bai” apps case. This case also involves several young persons, who allegedly created the app that ‘auctioned’ Muslim women who are prominent on social media. These mock auctions were channeled to social media, harassing the women. This case barked back to last year when a similar “Sulli Deals” app made the rounds.

The chatroom cases also come amid reports of a ‘Tek Fog’ that enables possibly politically linked right-wing players to amplify communal messages online and automate trolling of individuals.

This intersection of technology and extreme ideology seems to be happening in what are being called “trad” groups. Many of those arrested in these cases have been linked to social media groups that propagate an extreme form of Hindutva ideology that propounds religious and racial superiority and violence.

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