Community Growth and Grifters on Clubhouse

How to avoid the scams and curate a great experience online

Disclaimer: All digital platforms have scammers. It is a natural part of a growing digital ecosystem. Just as there are text scams, email scams, Instagram scams, and Facebook scams, Clubhouse’s influx of new users has brought with it those who want to exploit others.

This is (unfortunately) a normal part of digital platforms. As the founders introduce new safety and security measures, grifters will evolve their own techniques to evade them and it becomes an ongoing whack-a-mole situation.

Shoutout to the excellent Jeremiah Owyang and Vajresh Balaji for their help in compiling this list.

Image from Clubhouse App page. (These ppl are NOT scammers, lol)

The Natural Evolution of a Digital Community:

Clubhouse is an audio drop-in app that makes it easy to have spontaneous conversations with friends and strangers. Since moving out of private beta a few months ago, the app has experienced an explosive growth accompanied by a new pain point: the arrival of grifters.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Taking Advice or Spending Money on CH

Currently, the hallway (the main page of the app) is populated with an over-abundance of public rooms with self-proclaimed millionaires who promise listeners everything from building six-figure businesses in 30 days to growing your social media following by the millions. Only if you buy their e-book, online-course, or join a paying FB group, of course.

To be clear, not all products pitched are scams. Users should be extra-discerning as an audio-only app creates a sense of intimacy that might distract you from doing your due diligence. Some things to consider:

  1. Is this person selling me an unrealistic narrative? If you hear phrases like “zero effort passive income”, “earn money while you sleep”, or “turn-key businesses,” stop and ask yourself if the premise that’s being pitched to you is realistic.
  2. Does this person’s success extend beyond selling me how-to-be-successful tools? If their only claim to being a “millionaire” is to sell products on how to become a millionaire, it’s a red flag.
  3. Are their credentials independently verifiable? If they claim to work for a company, can they send you an email from an official corporate email address? Are they listed on the company’s website? Don’t just look at their CH bio.
  4. Do they use predatory sales tactics? If they rush you to make a purchase, insist it’s a limited time offer, pressure you to send them money without giving you a time to think, it’s a huge red flag. I’ve been in rooms where people are talking loud and fast, there’s a sense of urgency and messaging that you are going to miss out if you don’t purchase XYZ product RIGHT NOW.
  5. Do you understand their business model? How does this person make money? Do you understand their revenue streams?

Specific Scams to Watch Out For: (An Ongoing List)

As of 01/22:

  • Limited Room Durations: Implying that rooms have a limited time before “clubhouse shuts it down” and pressuring people to quickly cashapp the moderators funds before the room “automatically ends.” Aimed at new users, these rooms use the “turn-off hand raising feature” which sends a red banner that flashes quickly at the top of the screen. If you don’t know what it is or don’t have time to read it, it looks like a warning.
  • Undisclosed Affiliates: A moderator will start a room to sell a product, like an a course on how to earn money selling courses. They will bring people up from the audience who will appear to be convinced and enthusiastic about the product. They will not disclose that these people are working together because they all receive a cut of the revenues of any of the product sold.
  • Cash-Give Away Rooms: In these rooms “rich millionaires” will say they’re giving away $1,000 to audience members. They’ll send $10,000 instead, and claim it was a mistake and ask you to return the extra money. This is a variation of the popular “I sent you too much money” scams. Read more here.
  • Pay-to-Play: Some moderators will charge other users money for the opportunity to come up on stage, to become a fellow moderator, or to host an event as an opportunity to increase visibility and follower count.
  • Fake Clubhouse Credentials: People will list something like “official Clubhouse Moderator” on their bio, which is NOT a thing, and imply to new users that they need to hire one of these people if they want to start a room. Before the app banned it, people use to photoshop blue verification badges on their profile picture even though Clubhouse offers no official authentification mechanism.
  • IP Theft: These rooms have experts who pretend to work in the writing or music industry. They’ll host rooms to give “feedback” on music, book pitches, or TV shows. They will then steal that IP and use it themselves.

IF IT’S TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE, IT PROBABLY IS.

How to dramatically improve your CH Experience is 5 Easy Steps:

So, how do you eliminate toxic energy from your feed? Easy.

  1. Curate who you follow to match your expectations. In your excitement, you might have followed people you didn’t know or clubs that turn out not to be a good fit. There’s nothing wrong with starting from scratch. What type of experience do you want to have on CH? Do you want to network? Learn? Hang out? Party? Being clear on what you want from the app is a great first step. For example I tend to like smaller rooms that discuss topics that I’m interested in. You might like big, rowdy rooms. That’s ok. Find what you like and curate for it.
  2. Join fun clubs. Find people you like and look at what clubs they’ve joined, you can do this from their bio. The public rooms can be a hit or miss. They are often chaotic and messy. Clubs often have member-only rooms and events which ensures that you’re only getting to spend time with the content and people that you want to.

3. Block With Impunity. Do not engage with trolls. (General life advice, btw.) If you’re in a room with someone you don’t like, just block them and move on. Blocking them will remove any of their rooms from your feed and they won’t be able to see rooms where you are speaking. If you see a user being abusive, spreading misinformation, or saying offensive things, report them. Clubhouse is taking a strong stance against trolling and will kick people off of the app.

If you follow the steps outline above you’ll have a great time on the app and benefit from the generosity of a community that is often willing to help and share insights without any transactional expectations. I’ve made new friends, found business opportunities, and learn a ton from industry experts.

Rahaf Harfoush is a digital anthropologist and NYT-best selling author of several books. She is the Executive Director of the Red Thread Institute of Digital Culture and teaches Innovation & Disruptive Business Models at SciencesPo in Paris. Her latest book is called Hustle & Float: Reclaim your Creativity and Thrive in a World Obsessed with work. She runs The Red Thread Club and the Forge Society club on CH.

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