There seems to be a sudden excitement and migration from the usual live videos that we have been used to, to live audio on the social media platforms recently. The COVID-19 pandemic that has left people staying bored at home, has also in a big way accelerated the developments of these conversational products. What’s good about these popular audio platforms, though, is the fact that it centers around ephemeral conversations. Users can open Clubhouse or Twitter (Spaces) and jump in casual conversations without being recorded to be listened to later. Of course, there are those notorious people that screen-record things on social media, but that’s close to zero percent.
Facebook’s recent announcement that it is in the process of rolling out a suite of new audio products is a clear indication that it wants to take on Clubhouse, Twitter Spaces, and other platforms that have become popular for their audio services. As we speak, Clubhouse, just a year old is currently valued at $4 billion. You can agree with me that it had a speedy rise and remember it’s not even for everyone, just iOS users.
Now, Facebook despite lacking originality in these new products says the move was inspired by the rise of audio on its platforms, from audio calls to audio messages on WhatsApp and Messenger. The company says it’s invested in the full spectrum of audio technologies from audio quality enhancements, captions, speech translations, to superhuman hearing with the purpose of making audio presence easy, natural, and immersive.
Facebook is building is a set of new audio creation tools such as speech-to-text and voice morphing and making them available in an audio creation tool directly inside the Facebook app which allows users to mix audio tracks, a growing collection of sound effects, voice effects, and filters. These audio creation tools will enable users to create Soundbites. Podcasts are also coming to Facebook for listeners to be able to listen to their favorite podcasts directly on the Facebook app — both while using the app or when the app is backgrounded. Its partnership with Spotify will bring the company’s audio player to the app also to let users listen to the music.
Now to the highlight of the whole announcement, Facebook is launching Live Audio Rooms in the coming months starting with about 1.8 billion people using Groups and the tens of millions of active communities on Facebook. These Clubhouse-like live audio rooms will let users engage in topical discussions and will also be made available for Messenger too.
What is however a headache right now to CEO Zuckerberg is how to equitably moderate these audios. While speaking to the Verge, he acknowledged that there is a debate over the degree to which audio particularly live audio ought to be moderated. He said that the company would be able to take many lessons from what it has learned about monitoring text and video posts for bad behavior.
“There’s also this question of what you should enforce against. That’s going to be an open debate. If we go back five years, I think a lot more people were more on the free expression side of things. Today, a lot of people still are, but there’s also this rising wave of more people who are basically calling for more stuff to be blocked or limited in some way,” said Zuckerberg in an interview.
“That set of debates, I think, will be going on forever, in terms of where to find the right line. I don’t take it for granted that just because you have the ability to do different kinds of enforcement, that you should always do every single thing. I think that a lot of the time, you want to be on the side of free expression and allowing people to have more conversations,” he added.
Content moderation continues to pose a major challenge to owners of the social sites especially following the riots at the Capitol on January 6. Facebook is said to be spending billions to review millions of pieces of content every day through outsourcing most of this work to thousands of workers at third-party companies. While some companies rely more on algorithms hoping that they can deal with most of the dirty work, experts say machines can’t detect everything, such as the nuances of hate speech and misinformation.
There was a time you could just post whatever you wanted to, no matter how toxic it was, there wasn’t really something like content moderation. The companies were just working on improving the user experience. They would later face increasing pressure from lawmakers to clean up their platforms and that’s how we got here. It will be interesting to see how Facebook will moderate the live audio.