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Clubhouse Moves to Next Stage of Testing for Android App, Continues to Develop Payment Tools

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No matter how you look at it, the going is certainly getting tougher for audio social pioneer Clubhouse.

Over the last week and a bit, Facebook announced a slate of new audio social products across its various surfaces, Reddit added ‘Reddit Talk‘, its own take on the format, and Instagram launched audio-only IG Live streams, providing more alternative options for Clubhouse’s key functionality.

And then today, Twitter delivered another full-handed slap to Clubhouse’s face, with the expanded launch of its audio Spaces offering to all Twitter users, on iOS and Android, who have more than 600 followers.

Clubhouse, as a reminder, doesn’t yet have an Android app.

You would imagine that the mood around Clubhouse HQ is pretty tense, but for now, the app continues on its own path, moving forward with its own development plans, and into the next stage of its expansion. Or ‘renovation’, I guess, because it’s a Clubhou… never mind.

That expansion, of course, will primarily focus on a full roll-out, which will involve opening up the app to all users and releasing an Android version.

There’s nothing new to report on the former as yet, but on the latter, Clubhouse is progressing to the next stage of its Android app development. 

As reported by TechCrunch:

“The company announced during its weekly town hall event that its Android version has entered beta testing with a handful of non-employees who will provide the company with early feedback ahead of a public launch.”

Clubhouse confirmed the test in its weekly Town Hall notes:

Town Hall Highlights

???? Continued work on Android, payments, & lots of plumbing

???? Fixed bugs in a second release after last Sunday’s update

???? Watch Clubhouse HQ for an update on the Creator First Program Weds @ 9am PST

???? @anuatluru confirms she is still watching Survivor

— Clubhouse (@joinClubhouse) May 2, 2021

The fact that Clubhouse doesn’t haven’t an Android app has now become a much bigger impediment, with competitors launching their audio tools across all versions of their apps. That could make it a much harder sell for Clubhouse to eventually get Android users across – why would people switch to a new app for audio social meetings when they can get the same functionality in the tools they already know and trust, and within which they already have their established connection networks?

This could become the defining question in the lifecycle of the Clubhouse hype machine, which has used its invite-only FOMO factor to build a significant presence, but may end up losing out entirely due the very same restriction. 

Given this, Clubhouse needs to work fast to expand quickly, while also improving its discovery algorithms in-step, and maximizing creator incentives to avoid losing its top broadcasters to these alternative tools.

Which is another element of focus. As you can see in the above tweet summary, Clubhouse is also still working on payments, another means to incentivize its top broadcasters to remain active in the app, in addition to its Creator Accelerator Program, which provides participants with support and $5k in monthly payment for the period that they’re a part of the scheme.

These are key elements that Clubhouse needs to get right, which will dictate where it goes next.

Will it be able to stand up in the face of rapidly rising competition, or will the challenge prove too great, and leave Clubhouse as the next Meerkat, an app that rose fast, then declined just as rapidly, before shutting down completely at just 17 months of age?

It’s still too early to call, but Clubhouse’s window does appear to be closing. It needs to prop it open with some big moves soon.

In addition to this, Clubhouse is also looking to add:

  • New prompts for listeners to follow a club after they’ve joined a room and tuned in for “a few minutes”
  • An improved RSVP flow for individual events, separate from following a Club or speaker
  • A new addition for profiles which will list upcoming events to better promote participation

​These are obviously smaller, but still helpful tweaks – and it’s worth also noting that Clubhouse has a dedicated, passionate user base, who have formed strong communities within the app.

Given this, Clubhouse may still be able to hold its own, and carve out its own niche.

Again, its next moves will be critical in this respect.

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Oldham cat which wanders into Co-op store becomes TikTok and Instagram star

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A POPULAR cat which regularly wanders into a convenience store has become an overnight social media star.

Sarah Naylor and her son William welcomed a nine-month old kitten into their home in Lees around two years ago after he was in the care of charity Cat Protection.

The kitten has been rescued off the street.

William, who supported Tottenham Hotspur Football Club at the time, decided to name him Deli Alli, after the England international who plays for the London side.

And since he has lived with Sarah and William he has been known for venturing into nearby places, such as the Co-Op store on Owl Mill Street.

He also pops into the Angel Inn on Nicholson Street and Cartax Radio Cars on High StreetM Sarah said.

But it is his adventures in the Co-Op which is he mostly known for and this week, one of his fans took to social media platform TikTok and shared a post about him.

FAMILY: William with Deli Alli

FAMILY: William with Deli Alli

LOVING: Deli Alli

LOVING: Deli Alli

Including a picture of Deli Alli, the post read: “Don’t ask (be)cause I have no idea, but yes, there was a cat sat on my shopping.”

It has since been widely shared and has attracted more than 1m views and over 62,000 likes.

Deli Alli’s fame has shot up further after a meme was created about him on another social media outlet, Instagram.

Sarah, 38, said: “He is the first cat I have ever had and he was wild when we first got him.

“But now he is just like normal.

“He goes out and into the Co-Op and walks up and down the aisles and knows all the staff.

“He likes to hide in the baby food aisle and jump out at people and there’s a chair near the tills that he sits on.”

William, eight, is thrilled that his feline companion has been recognised widely online.

POPULAR: In the Co-Op in Lees

POPULAR: In the Co-Op in Lees

Reacting to Deli Alli’s newfound fame, he added: “I think it is really funny and I am really proud of him.”

Emily Lees, who works at the Co-Op store, said: “Delli Ali just lingers around all the time, he’s lovely.

“He does not like leavingm I think he thinks it’s his house.”

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Facebook’s AI treats Palestinian activists like it treats American Black activists. It blocks them.

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The companies blamed the errors on glitches in artificial intelligence software.

In Twitter’s case, the company said its service mistakenly identified the rapid-firing tweeting during the confrontations as spam, resulting in hundreds of accounts being temporarily locked and the tweets not showing up when searched for. Facebook-owned Instagram gave several explanations for its problems, including a software bug that temporarily blocked video-sharing and saying its hate speech detection software misidentified a key hashtag as associated with a terrorist group.

The companies said the problems were quickly resolved and the accounts restored. But some activists say many posts are still being censored. Experts in free speech and technology said that’s because the issues are connected to a broader problem: overzealous software algorithms that are designed to protect but end up wrongly penalizing marginalized groups that rely on social media to build support. Black Americans, for example, have complained for years that posts discussing race are incorrectly flagged as problematic by AI software on a routine basis, with little recourse for those affected.

Despite years of investment, many of the automated systems built by social media companies to stop spam, disinformation and terrorism are still not sophisticated enough to detect the difference between desirable forms of expression and harmful ones. They often overcorrect, as in the most recent errors during the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or they under-enforce, allowing harmful misinformation and violent and hateful language to proliferate, including hoaxes about coronavirus vaccines and violent posts ahead of the U.S. Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6.

The Palestinian situation erupted into a full-blown public relations and internal crisis for Facebook. Last week, CEO Mark Zuckerberg dispatched the company’s top policy executive, Nick Clegg, to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leadership, according to the company. Meanwhile, Palestinians launched a campaign to knock down Facebook’s ranking in app stores by leaving one-star reviews. The incident was designated “severity 1” — the company’s term for a sitewide emergency, according to internal documents reviewed by The Washington Post and first reported by NBC. The documents noted that Facebook executives reached out to Apple, Google, and Microsoft to request that the posts be deleted.

Meanwhile, a group of 30 Facebook employees, some of whom said they had friends and family affected by the conflict, have complained of “over-enforcement” on the Palestinian content in an open letter on the company’s workforce messaging boards, according to another set of internal documents reviewed by The Post. The group has filed at least 80 tickets to report “false positives” with the company’s automation systems in relation to the conflict, noting many of the problems were with the AI mistakenly labeling images of protests as “harassment or bullying.”

Jillian York, a director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an advocacy group that opposes government surveillance, has researched tech company practices in the Middle East. She said she doesn’t believe that content moderation — human or algorithmic — can work at scale.

“Ultimately, what we’re seeing here is existing offline repression and inequality being replicated online, and Palestinians are left out of the policy conversation,” York said.

Facebook spokeswoman Dani Lever said the company’s “policies are designed to give everyone a voice while keeping them safe on our apps, and we apply these policies equally.” She added that Facebook has a dedicated team of Arabic and Hebrew speakers closely monitoring the situation on the ground, but declined to say whether any were Palestinian. In an Instagram post May 7, Facebook also gave an account of what it said led to the glitch.

Twitter spokeswoman Katie Rosborough said the enforcement actions were “more severe than intended under our policies” and that the company had reinstated the accounts where appropriate. “Defending and respecting the voices of the people who use our service is one of our core values at Twitter,” she said.

Palestinian activists took to the social media platforms as they began staging protests in late April ahead of an impending Israeli Supreme Court case over whether settlers had the right to evict families from their homes in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. Potential evictees live-streamed confrontations and documented footage of injuries after Israeli police stormed al-Aqsa Mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam.

The conflict descended into war after terrorist group Hamas, which governs Gaza, fired explosive rockets into Israel. Israel responded with an 11-day bombing campaign that killed 254 Palestinians, including 66 children. Twelve people in Israel were killed, including two children.

During the barrage, Palestinians posted photos on Twitter showing homes covered in rubble and children’s coffins. A cease-fire took effect May 20.

Palestinian activists and experts who study social movements say it was another watershed historical moment in which social media helped alter the course of events. They compared it to a decade ago, when social media platforms were key to organizing the pro-Democracy uprising known as the Arab Spring. But at the time, tech companies didn’t rely on policing algorithms, rather humans making decisions. And while mistakes were made, nothing occurred on the scale of today, York said.

Even after the companies said the glitches were fixed, 170 Instagram posts and five Twitter posts that activists believe were wrongly removed were still offline, according to 7amleh, the Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media, a group that advocates for Palestinian digital rights. The group said in a report in late May that it was told by the companies that some of the remaining posts are under review.

Facebook and Twitter declined to comment.

During the early protests in East Jerusalem, some posts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were taken down for using the hashtag #SaveSheikhJarrah, the name of the neighborhood in dispute, said Iyad Alrefaie, director of Sada Social, a group that tracks digital rights in the Palestinian territories.

Mariam Barghouti, a Palestinian-American journalist who covers the West Bank for Al Jazeera and other outlets, posted on Instagram that she had her account restricted by Twitter for purportedly violating the company’s social media policy while covering a protest. She said in media interviews that she did not know which tweets broke the rules. The company later restored her account and tweets, saying it made an error, according to spokeswoman Rosborough.

Digital rights groups Access Now, 7amleh and other organizations have spent the years since the Arab Spring documenting problems with how social media companies handle Palestinian content, as well as content from the region at large.

In 2016, Facebook blocked the accounts of several editors at two Palestinian news organizations without giving a reason, Al Jazeera reported at the time. After complaints, the social media company reversed the bans and said they had been accidental. In 2019, Twitter suspended accounts run by a Palestinian news organization, Quds News Network, in a sweep of terrorist accounts (which have since been reinstated, Twitter said). In May 2020, Facebook deactivated the accounts of more than 50 Palestinian journalists and activists without providing an explanation, activists said, including from journalists who posted footage of attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinian farmers in occupied territories.

Facebook declined comment on those examples.

Facebook took down a post from a father wishing his infant son, named Qassam, a happy birthday, according to Alrefaie, the director of Sada Social. The group assumed that it was because the company blocks many posts about al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing.

“These words are part of our discourse, it’s a part of our culture,” Alrefaie said. “Facebook didn’t differentiate between any context.” Facebook declined comment on that incident.

Marwa Fatafta, digital rights policy manager for the Middle East and North Africa region for Access Now, said other keywords, such as the term Zionist, are often banned when Palestinians use them because it’s assumed to be antisemitic.

“Under our current policies, we allow the term ‘Zionist’ in political discourse, but remove attacks against Zionists in specific circumstances, when there’s context to show it’s being used as a proxy for Jews or Israelis, which are protected characteristics under our hate speech policy,” Facebook’s Lever said.

Some activists have developed workarounds to the algorithms, including using an ancient method of writing Arabic, according to an article by independent Egyptian news website Mada Masr. Some U.S. activists use similar tactics, purposely misspelling common words like “white” to avoid algorithmic censorship during discussions of race, The Post has reported.

Activists have also decried tech companies’ relationship with the Israeli government, and in particular the Ministry of Justice’s Cyber Unit — which has a direct channel to technology companies to report potential content violations. They have asked tech companies to be transparent about when the government secretly refers accounts to be blocked or content to be removed, including whether the unit was involved in takedowns during the war.

Facebook, Google and Twitter all said they comply with local laws and regularly respond to takedown requests from governments, which they publish in biannual transparency reports. Twitter said the spam filter issue had nothing to do with Israeli authorities. Facebook did not respond to several requests for comment about the nature of reports by Israeli authorities during the recent crisis. A Google spokesman declined to say whether it received bulk requests from the Cyber Unit.

Journalists and activists have also complained that Google hasn’t updated its maps of Gaza with higher-resolution images, despite a U.S. law limiting the degree of detail in public maps of the area being lifted in 2020. Detailed maps help document the damage from airstrikes.

Google declined to comment on why the Gaza maps have not been updated.

Payment app Venmo also mistakenly suspended transactions of humanitarian aid to Palestinians during the war. The company said it was trying to comply with U.S. sanctions and had resolved the issues.

Tech companies are caught between governments trying to stop unrest or violence and activists advocating for free democratic expression, said James Grimmelmann, a law professor at Cornell Tech.

“So the platforms really have to make deeply political choices,” he said.

The latest issues began May 5, when Instagram started receiving reports that people participating in protests in Colombia could not share video, the company later said in a post in which it apologized for its errors. The next day, similar reports came from people participating in demonstrations in Canada and in East Jerusalem. Executives discovered a glitch in a long-planned update to video-sharing products, called Stories. In its apology, the company noted that the bug had nothing to do with these particular events, and in fact had affected more users in the United States than elsewhere.

Several days later, citizens and activists began reporting their posts about al-Aqsa Mosque, using the hashtag #AlAqsa or its Arabic counterparts, were being restricted. The restrictions were often accompanied by a pop-up that said the term was associated with “violence or dangerous organizations.”

On May 11, a Facebook employee filed a grievance, according to a report by BuzzFeed. Facebook said in response that the name of the mosque was a designated terrorist organization. Facebook later told The Post that the hashtag had been restricted in several ways, not only blocking individual posts but also limiting people’s ability to search for it.

Around the same time, Twitter began fielding reports that influential accounts tweeting about the conflict were being unexpectedly suspended, the company said, due to AI mistaking posts for spam. The company says it restored the accounts a few hours later.

Twitter spokeswoman Rosborough noted that similar incidents of overly severe enforcement took place during the 2020 presidential debates and during protests against a coup this spring in Myanmar.

And sometimes, she pointed out, algorithms get things right: At one point during the conflict, an algorithm also automatically restricted the Israeli army’s official account. The account was trying to post the same tweet twice, of emergency sirens going off in the southern city of Beersheba, and Twitter blocked it.

“We know it’s repetitive — but that’s the reality for Israelis all over the country,” the tweet said.

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Karen from Brighton’s Instagram post with new Melbourne lockdown song

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Karen from Brighton returns with a Backstreet Boys song about lockdown. Picture: Instagram
Karen from Brighton returns with a Backstreet Boys song about lockdown. Picture: Instagram

Social media sensation Karen from Brighton has returned with a new song to help boost Melburnians spirits during the latest lockdown.

Jodi Grollo, who shot to fame as Karen from Brighton last year when she complained about walking the same streets of the posh bayside suburb, says she has returned home from Noosa to help get Victorians through another lockdown.

In her latest Instagram post on Thursday, she covered the Backstreet Boys’ smash hit Everybody (Backstreet’s Back) with lyrics adapted to Victoria’s situation.

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“Everybody, yeah, I’m so sorry,” she sang.

“Everybody, lock your doors tonight, Covid’s back all right.

“Oh my God it’s back again. Everybody’s locked inside again.

“Covid’s back another variant now, 12 months on and we still don’t know how.

“Is it original, maybe.”

Ms Grollo then had another subtle swipe at the Premier Dan Andrews and Health Minister Martin Foley, who she has heavily criticised in the past for their handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Can we blame Danny? Not likely,” she continued.

“How’s about Foley? Well probably.

“All I know is that we need to lock our bloody doors again tonight. Crap.”

The post has already gathered more than 10,500 views in just 24 hours.

Ms Grollo rose to social media fame when she was interviewed on Nine News from Melbourne’s Botanic Gardens track during last year’s crippling lockdown and was asked about a new restriction not to cross council boundaries while exercising.

“Well, you get sick of walking the same streets,” she said. “You know, I’ve done all of Brighton.”

Jody Grollo, known as Karen from Brighton, departs for Darwin at Melbourne Airport in October last year. Picture: NCA NewsWire/David Geraghty
Jody Grollo, known as Karen from Brighton, departs for Darwin at Melbourne Airport in October last year. Picture: NCA NewsWire/David Geraghty

She was then involved in a bitter war of words with the Premier before she eventually packed up and moved to Queensland via the Northern Territory’s Howard Springs facility to escape Victoria’s lockdown.

Although she indicated the move would probably be permanent at the time, she says she has returned this week to “help get us through another lockdown”.

The viral celebrity is the daughter of pokies king Bruce Mathieson and the wife of Gianni Grollo, whose family controls the prominent Grollo construction empire.

Some have dubbed her ‘Karen from Brighton’ for her response to Melbourne’s lockdown on Nine News.

Reporter

Sydney

Jack Paynter is NCA NewsWire’s breaking news and crime reporter based in Melbourne. He began his career as a local journalist at Leader community news in suburban Melbourne before moving to Hobart for a stint…

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