Can Clubhouse mend Turkish politics?

The new social media chatting application Clubhouse has become the talk of the town, quite literally. And something interesting is happening among its Turkish users. In some rooms, those close to the ruling parties and the opposition have come together. Speakers from different political factions criticize each other, but do so respectfully.

As social media continues to play an increasingly large role in our lives, many of us tend to get lost in echo chambers of our own making. A new application, however, has the potential to curb political polarization, at least to a certain extent.
 
The new invitation-only chatting application, called Clubhouse, has become the talk of the town, quite literally. Turkey, a nation which values and even prioritizes chit chat, seem to have already taken a liking to it. The new app is still restricted, as users can only join via invitation; like in the early days of Facebook. However, it seems just about everyone has been invited.
 
Influencers are of course already there. You can also find journalists roaming from room to room. While on the application, I have bumped into university students, white-collar workers, and even old fashioned celebrities from the good ol’ TV world; which was cool like a decade ago.
 
For now, everybody seems to be finding something interesting about Clubhouse. In one room, Elon Musk was a speaker for the biggest event yet on the platform. A group of German speakers started a “Ruheraum;” a silent room, in which nobody was talking. The purpose of which was likely irony, starting a silent room in a space designed for talking.
 
For Turkish users, however, there is another story. Recent studies show Turkey as being one of the most politically polarized countries. The constituency of the ruling coalition seems to hate everyone else, and vice versa; many do not want to communicate with one another at all or even be neighbors.
 
Despite all this, something interesting has been happening in Clubhouse. In some rooms, pundits and journalists close to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and opposition pundits have been coming together. These gatherings are usually unplanned. Someone starts a room and, if the room is interesting, people join. Well-known names are called to the stage as speakers. Speakers from different political factions have been criticizing each other, but the criticisms have been respectful. People have begun talking freely; and listening to each other. This is something oft not seen in our social media echo chambers.
 
Perhaps one of the reasons for this novel space is that chats on Clubhouse are only live, not recorded. Thus, when a speaker says something controversial his/her chances of getting indicted for it are low. It becomes difficult to prove what was said. Additionally, there are no anonymous accounts; everybody must use their actual names. Clubhouse may sound like an audio twitter at first, but it isn’t. Furiously typing angry words and spitting hate at someone seems to be easier with taping. However, when people must ‘face’ each other, even if on an artificial medium, being hateful is less easy.
 
The first two politicians to join Clubhouse have been the Republican People’s Party (CHP) Istanbul branch head Canan Kaftancıoğlu and the leader of the Future Party Ahmet Davutoğlu. The opposition, which has a hard time finding conventional media outlets to convey their views to the public, is trying every new thing at their disposable, including new social media platforms.
 
My analysis is that Clubhouse has the chance to be a new medium for people to understand each other and curb polarization, at least to some extent. That is at least, until the government trolls find a way to flood Clubhouse. Once they do, it will overflow with rage, hatred, and vicious attacks; Because the government derives its power from polarization. Once they don’t have it, there is no reason for ‘this,’ whatever you want to call it, in Turkey to exist.

February 25, 2021 Is Boğaziçi a turning point?