- A chatroom on Clubhouse exploded into an anti-Semitic tirade on Monday night, several people in the room told Business Insider.
- Some participants in the invite-only chatroom repeated tropes about Jewish people and argued that Black people could not trust Jewish people because they participate in the economic system of their oppressors, capitalism.
- The conversation’s timing was especially difficult for members of the Jewish community celebrating Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year in Judaism.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
A number of people on Clubhouse, the audio-only chat app used by tech founders and investors, took to Twitter to express their anger after a chatroom conversation erupted with anti-Semitic points of view on Monday evening.
Monday was also Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year in Judaism.
Hundreds of people tuned into a chatroom, which was named “Anti-Semitism and Black Culture,” on Monday night as a cast of tech workers tried to unpack the relationship between Black people and Jewish people in America. The conversation quickly devolved into a tirade against Jewish people, said several users who spoke to Business Insider.
There were people who spouted anti-Semitic tropes, like Jewish people are all bankers who “do business with the enemy,” one person recalled. They debated if Black people could trust Jewish people because Jewish people participate in the economic system of their oppressors — capitalism — according to two Clubhouse users who listened in.
“The essential thesis of a lot of the folks was that Jewish people and Black people face the same amount of historical trauma but because [Jewish people] control the banking system they were able to claim their own reparations,” a tech startup founder told Business Insider, repeating the anti-Semitic trope about Jewish people and money. He asked not to be named because he didn’t want to cause trouble with his investors.
Another participant said it felt like the two groups were trying to compare the suffering of each group.
Paul Davison and Rohan Seth, the cofounders of Clubhouse, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
—delian (@zebulgar) September 29, 2020
The conversation started around 9 in the evening on Monday and lasted until the early hours.
Sara Mauskopf, a startup founder, said she listened for only three minutes but heard enough in that time to close the app and leave the discussion.
“There’s a room on clubhouse right now that is literally just a bunch of people talking about why it’s ok to hate Jews so I’m done with that app for awhile,” tweeted Mauskopf, who runs daycare-finder service Winnie.
—Sara Mauskopf (@sm) September 29, 2020
Clubhouse works by having a moderator open a chatroom and inviting users to speak, while any user can listen in.
“It’s the sin of Clubhouse — the quality of these rooms hangs on the moderator,” the startup founder told us.
In the hours after the chatroom started, people formed breakout rooms to comment on what was happening.
There was a consensus that the moderator, software engineer and activist Ashoka Finley, didn’t do enough to shut down those who were spouting the offensive points of view, like taking away their speaking privileges.
Finley told us that his intent was to bring together Black people and Jewish people to have a conversation about their life experiences, with the goal of uniting against white supremacy. But the conversation got out of hand when people who Finley said he didn’t know made generalizations about Jewish people, and he was not practiced in intervention, he told Business Insider.
This was the biggest room that Finley had ever moderated, in-person or online, he said. If he could do it over, he would invite a panel of speakers who can speak to Black and Jewish experiences, instead of random users on the app.
“There was an expectation of leadership that I didn’t understand walking into the room,” Finley said of the role of a moderator.
He said he was inspired to start the chatroom after a Jewish woman reached out to him, saying she had heard anti-Semitic comments from a Black person but didn’t feel comfortable reporting it because of the person’s identity.
He hopes to continue the conversation, in a different format, to help bring Black people and Jewish people closer.
Finley also publicly apologized on Twitter after the chatroom conversation drew many tweets condemning it.
The conversation’s timing was especially difficult for some members of the Jewish community, coming on the heels of their most important holiday, Yom Kippur, which involves a day of fasting and prayer.
It also came at a time when the world has been full of racial injustices to the Black community and when Jews are also concerned about rising incidents of anti-Semitism.
Others, however, who heard the discussion were more irreverent and able to make light of the situation.
For instance, Antonio García Martínez, a writer and former product manager at Facebook, had just broken fast when he tuned in. He described it on Twitter as having “some vague anti-Semitism going” and joked that he was ready to take the mic.
“I just pounded two bears, two slices of pizza, and a tikka masala burrito…I’m ready to fight for the Jewish people!” García Martínez tweeted.
—Antonio García Martínez (@antoniogm) September 29, 2020
This is not the first time people have come after Clubhouse for moderation issues. In June, the app was at the center of a controversy between New York Times reporter Taylor Lorenz and tech investor Balaji Srinivasan, where Lorenz complained about harassment she faced on Clubhouse. (She had been given access to the app in order to review it.)
Last year, Clubhouse raised $10 million from one of the most esteemed venture capital firms in Silicon Valley, Andreessen Horowitz. The deal valued the startup at nearly $100 million, according to Forbes.
Are you in Clubhouse user with insight to share? Contact Melia Russell via email at [email protected] or on encrypted chat app Signal at (603) 913-3085 (no PR inquiries, please). Open DMs on Twitter @meliarobin.