“There is no other religion apart from Islam which contains elements and doctrines to subjugate and torture people who don’t submit to their religion, essentially saying there is no truth apart from their religion, there is just one God that is Allah. And according to them, since there is no other truth in any religion that exists, what you need to do is convert them by resort, convert them by rape, convert them by subjugation and torture. Hinduism is not a monotheistic religion like Islam and Christianity,” said Nupur J Sharma, editor-in-chief of Op India, a website that has been called out multiple times for hate speech and misinformation. To her remark, five others flashed their mic in agreement.
She was speaking in a weekend Clubhouse room titled ‘The Civil Conversation on Hindutva and Hindu Rashtra' with over 800 people.
In the same room, one Aparna points out that “India was partitioned based on religion, and hence adding the word ‘secular’ to its Constitution is a betrayal towards Hindus.” Bringing up the citizenship debate, she said, “As a country, we have limited resources. Before coming to India, they (Muslims) were living in a place whose resources they are entitled to. If they now start using our resources, obviously there will be resistance. We are giving them our resources to exploit it.”
To this, the moderator warned, “Please be careful, this room might be getting recorded. And I would urge the speakers to talk about Hinduism and Hindutva and not go into other religions.”
The room remained active for over three hours on Saturday, 12 June. For the two hours that this reporter was a part of the room as a listener, the conversations largely revolved around “how Hindus have been tortured for decades in their own country”, how ‘”Hindu scriptures and slogans like Ahimsa Parmo Dharma is half-truth and the full reading of the Sanskrit phrase would reveal that picking up arms to protect their religion is a part of Hindu religion", “who is a real Hindu”, how “Hindus are living under the threat of Muslims in India and one would realise the magnitude of the fear once the Census 2021 is released".
But, this is not the only voice chat room on the social media app that hosted a conversation steering towards communal tones. Clubhouse, an audio-based social media platform that allows users to host live conversations with large groups of people, is the newest addition to the list of platforms letting Islamophobia, hate speech, and harassment against communities go fairly unchecked.
Twitter’s version of Clubhouse, called the Twitter Spaces, also replicates the model of hate and misinformation.
Several Twitter users posted snippets of hateful conversation from the rooms they have attended on Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces. In one Clubhouse room, a Muslim was offered Rs 500 to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’ 500 times.
A journalist with National Herald, Ashlin Mathew, posted a Twitter thread where she described how a Clubhouse room shut down women and allegedly tagged interfaith marriages between Christians and Muslims as ‘love jihad'.
Love Jihad, Cows, Ram Mandir, And Israel: The Common Themes
The rooms discussing Hindutva motives and agenda would eventually veer towards hate for Muslims, said writer and poet Hussain Haidry. He added, “The common themes would revolve around love jihad, mostly. I have also seen discussions happening on the Israel-Palestinian issues, Bengal politics, and ultimately the conversation turned to how Islam is the biggest threat to the country.”
On 8 May, Swati Goel Sharma, a senior editor with Swarajya, hosted a Space titled ‘Oximeters for Cows?’ While the group intended to discuss Sharma’s coverage on cow politics, one of the speakers Sanjeev Newar, a popular name in the Hindutva circuit and founder of Gems of Bollywood, (a Twitter account “highlight the Hinduphobia of old Bollywood films) called for assault and murder of those who crack jokes about cows or gaumutra (cow urine).
He said, “If you ask me, I think government should give us a free hand to beat up anyone who cracks a joke on Gaumutra. And this should not be considered as a sin because it is done in self-defense.”
Newar repeatedly hosts Twitter Spaces which spread hate and call for violence against Muslims. He has 75,000 followers on Twitter. After the clip went viral, he wrote a Twitter thread explaining his stance.
Ankita Biswas, whose profile says she is a member of the BJP’s student wing, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), claims her account was suspended while she was hosting a Clubhouse room title ‘Love Jihadi & Jihadi Violence: 2 Sides of the Same Coin’.
However, this strict action has not been uniformly implemented by the social media app. On 15 June, a Clubhouse room was hosted with the name ‘FIR se kuch nahi hoga, dande pe bithao sooar ke bacchon ko (Nothing will happen with an FIR, beat these pigs up) with Pramod Kumar Singh, senior editor of Daily Pioneer.
Rape Threats and Casteism, But No Way to Report
Several right-wing users took offence when some social media influencers championing for gender cause, including Kusha Kapila remained silent despite being a part of a room where a male speaker, Neeraj was heard making a remark, that many called ‘problematic’. In a group titled ‘Do we only date hot people?’, the moderator asked Neeraj if he dates only hot people, to which he responds, “No, I date all kinds of people but on the dating apps, I do sometimes thirst for these very hot Sanghi types, just for fun.”
The discussion carried on with a female moderator saying “Sanghis are not hot” and another female speaker comparing the act Neeraj described to “having hate sex.”
Several members who subscribe to the Hindutva ideology took offence at the conversation but pointed out that Clubhouse does not have a mechanism to report a room.
Many users attending these rooms on political discussions which would often take a hateful turn had a similar complaint – no way to report full conversations.
Anurag Minus Verma, a podcaster belonging to the Dalit community, recalls how his friend who is a social commentator was harassed on a Twitter Spaces when she spoke about casteism in the Hindu fold. He added, “The discussion on Twitter Spaces are cruder than the ones on Clubhouse. They both discuss hate, but the members on Clubhouse mostly belong to a very elite group so far and have many NRIs leading the conversation. They know how to sugarcoat hate with urban vocabulary. Several groups and discussions on casteism and reservations are held where they downplay and dismiss the need for caste-based reservation and flaunt their caste pride.”
The Quint attended a Clubhouse room named ‘Good Afternoon Brown Land’, where Austin-based Genecist Razib Khan, with 6,000 followers on Clubhouse and 37,000 followers on Twitter, hosted a room to talk about “origins of different strands of Brahmins in India.” Khan went on to crack jokes about race, complexion, and caste with others spreading massive misinformation on birth of Brahminism.
Hussain Haidry points out there is another problem with an audio-only app like Clubhouse. “When people write something hateful on Twitter, you can see the content in its entirety. With places like Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces, where conversations carry on for hours, there is no way to track down on the magnanimity of the amount of hate being spread.”
Cutting Down on Hate: What Do the Policies Say?
The community guidelines for Clubhouse state that offensive conversations can be reported only by “reporting” individual users. There is no guideline on how to report entire conversations or rooms. The guidelines say that if a user reports another user in real time and from a live room, Clubhouse can “retain the temporary, encrypted audio recording for the purpose of investigating the incident.” However, if a user wants to report a past incident, there is no provision to hold on to the audio recording.
“We understand that not all Clubhouse users will share our views as to what constitutes a violation of these 'community guidelines’. However, to operate a functional platform, we must reserve the right to determine in our sole discretion what constitutes a violation,” mentioned the guidelines.
The Quint has reached out to the social media company with the following questions:
- How is Clubhouse filtering out hateful content and misinformation on its platform? While one room, the name of 'love jihad' was banned, another was not. What is its policies and parameters?
- Why is there no way to report a room where hateful content is being discussed against a minority, even though the room has a name like 'Civil Conversation...'? How then can a listener report an incident of hate and abuse?
- If misinformation is being spread in a room or hateful content is being discussed, who is liable for action? Moderator, listener, or speaker or all three?
- There have already been instances of hate speech and casteist remarks and misinformation against users, what action has been taken against them? In how long will that action be taken?
There has been no response from Clubhouse 48 hours after the questions were sent and acknowledged. The article will be updated as and when they respond.
Meanwhile, Twitter Spaces responded to the same queries and said:
“The Host of a Space has control over who can speak. They can mute any Speaker, but it is up to the individual to unmute themselves. Hosts/admins can also remove, report, and block others in the Space.
Speakers and Listeners can report and block others in the Space, or can report the Space. If you block a participant in the Space, you will also block that person’s account on Twitter.
If the person you blocked joins as a Listener, they will appear in the participant list with a Blocked label under their account name. If the person you blocked joins as a Speaker, they will also appear in the participant list with a Blocked label under their account name and you will see an in-app notification stating, “An account you blocked has joined as a Speaker.” If you are entering a Space that already has a blocked account as a Speaker, you will also see a warning before joining the Space stating, “You have blocked 1 person who is speaking.” If you are hosting a Space, people you’ve blocked can’t join.”