Audio-only discussion app Clubhouse which was gaining steam in China has been blocked by the Chinese “Great Firewall”. Thousands of Chinese users interested in intellectual conversations with each other about the state of affairs found themselves unable to continue using the app on Monday. Unlike most Chinese apps which are heavily censored and monitored, Clubhouse was uncensored which led to discussions between Chinese people on topics that are rarely spoken about online.
New York Times reported that in one chat room, a man spoke about reports of Muslim concentration camps in Western regions of China. A woman calmly chimed in and explained that the reports are in fact true because her relatives have been one of those who served time there. A man from Hong Kong heard the discourse and appreciated the woman for having the courage to speak about that.
In another chatroom, people spoke about Chinese leaders that should be held responsible for the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. In another chatroom, there were individuals reporting experiences with the Chinese police.
In one there were participants who mourned the first death anniversary of Dr. Li Wenliang by staying silent. Li was the same person who was punished for warning the Chinese authorities about the origin of the COVID-19 virus in Wuhan. Chinese authorities suggested that he died of the same virus and his death was the trigger of #freedomofspeech which was spread widely on the Chinese social media platforms.
All these conversations between Chinese people were historic because people from the State are cut-off completely from the rest of the online world by the State imposed Great Firewall. These people found a virtual discussion forum on Clubhouse to discuss important topics free from moderation and control.
Although it is unclear as to how many people were registered on the invite-only platform, it is reported that the invite codes were being sold in the black market for as high as 300 yuan (Approximately $46). The cost did not stop several thousand Chinese people to get access to the platform. The platform provided them with audio chatrooms which disappeared without a trace after the end of the conversation. This made people possible to speak anonymously without the worry of having digitally stored evidence of what they spoke about.
For the brief amount of time when the app was unblocked, people flocked all the way from Hong Kong and Taiwan to Mainland Chinese cities. According to reports, the app saw several Chinese-language chatrooms popping up and filling up to the maximum 5000 user capacity.
Currently, all the major social media platforms like WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, entertainment platforms like YouTube, HBO, Netflix, search platforms like Bing, Google and Duck Duck Go, along with discussion forums like Discord, Reddit, Quora, etc are banned within the People’s Republic of China. Chinese citizens are permitted to make use of state-developed platforms like WeChat, Weibo, etc. to communicate. But these platforms are tightly monitored by online censors and face heavy regulation.
The Chinese citizens found a brief respite in Clubhouse after Elon Musk, who enjoys a cult following in the State, made an appearance on the app and boosted the app’s status.