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Clubhouse Leads Politicians on to Straight Talking

News   |  29.03. 2021

Ever fantasise about cosying up with your pets on the sofa and telling your favourite (or most hated) politician exactly what you think of their work? Perhaps it is still too soon to imagine yourself grilling Orbán through an app on your phone just yet, but maybe Clubhouse can soon make that dream a reality by revolutionising the way politicians and citizens communicate with one another.

Clubhouse is a drop-in audio-chat application or app, which since its launch in March 2020 has grabbed the attention of venture capitalists and techies from Silicon Valley. Because of Zoom-fatigue many now mingle via this audio app while quarantined at home. It only premiered in Central Europe over a month ago and already has created a step up for political discussions online.

The app has blown worldwide since a heated conversation on 31 January 2021 between Elon Musk, the owner of Tesla, and Vladimir Tenev, the CEO of Robinhood, a stock trading and investing company, regarding GameStop’s short squeeze drama. So far, the app has amassed over eight million downloads, despite still being in the pre-launch phase.

You can only enter Clubhouse through an invitation from an already active user, and only via an Apple iOS device (reportedly, the app’s Android version is in the works).

When you join the app you can follow other users, topics, and ‘clubs’ you are interested in. Based on the people and topics you choose to follow, the app suggests ‘rooms’ and discussions, of which many happen daily or weekly at a scheduled time. You can also turn on notifications to know when a person you follow starts speaking.

Central Europe in da club 

Next to scoring a huge following among the business and start-up community, the novelty has struck interest in the world of political communication. On both sides of the Atlantic, tech-savvy politicians have been using it as a way to reach out to and directly interact with their voters, with Central European politicians not missing out on the trend. In Czechia and Slovakia, the app has become a hit, with MEPs from these countries amassing over a thousand followers on their profiles and hosting discussion rooms regularly.

Czech MEP Tomáš Zdechovský, affiliated with the KDU-ČSL and the European People’s Party explains the particular popularity of Clubhouse in Czech politics with the fact that it was launched before the Senate and regional elections that took place in October 2020. Having over 1,300 followers, Zdechovský has been actively using the app for his work as a politician, he uses Clubhouse to talk about current affairs and his work with the Czech speakers who follow him:

“When I voted on an issue in the European Parliament, I was immediately asked to join a Clubhouse room and discuss my position. They mentioned my position on the issue during my election campaign and asked why I voted the way I did. I had to explain myself to my constituents. I think it is the perfect tool for holding the politicians accountable.”

The experience of app users confirms Zdechovský’s idea about the app serving as a tool that could help legitimise politicians in the eyes of the voters.

Jakub Kobera, a 25-year old young professional from Slovakia, who now uses Clubhouse mostly to follow discussions related to business and emerging trends in Slovakia’s start-up community, says that he would put more trust into a politician who he could see was active on the app: “if I saw a politician on Clubhouse, communicating directly with the voters, and talking about the ideas they have and presenting their views, I would be more willing to trust them.”

‘Grill the politician’ at your fingertips now

MEP Zdechovský thinks the app can also act as a new conduit for communication between politicians and the media: “I think it is a possible new bridge-building tool between politicians and journalists. I was once asked by a journalist on Clubhouse to react to something that was just mentioned on state television,” says Zdechovský.

Perhaps, the cosiness of Clubhouse rooms creates a space where politicians feel less subjected to media bashing and are able to provide more in-depth explanations of their views and opinions.

“Once I was having a conversation on the app with a journalist who is often very critical of me. After the discussion, he wrote that before the talk he thought I was ‘a typical populist’ but that after speaking with me, he has changed his mind,” Zdechovský told us.

Additionally, Clubhouse holds the potential to become a pan-national facilitator of dialogue among politicians and the international relations community.

Zdechovský positively recalls his experience from an international political discussion: “I was in a closed discussion room with politicians from the US, Canada, and the UK. It was quite interesting to hear their reactions to the US presidential election, the situation in America, security issues, Iran, Iraq, and other things. These are politicians I knew from Twitter or from some articles, but it was a completely different experience to actually listen and hear how they discuss issues.”

More here.