The popular new audio chat app Clubhouse was recently blocked by the ruling Chinese Communist Party in yet another example of that government’s aversion to free speech.
Radio Free Asia reported that after three days of a “free-speech bonanza,” China’s internet censorship machinery cranked into gear and banned the audio chat app Clubhouse. The topics that Chinese people were openly debating included the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s genocidal policies in Xinjiang and Tibet, its crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong, and its military threats against democratic Taiwan.
The app is an invitation-only platform, so Clubhouse was able to filter out much of the usual interference from CCP supporters, known as the Fifty Cent Army, RFA explained in the piece from its Cantonese and Mandarin Services. The app opened a rare window of opportunity for users in China to speak freely in Clubhouse’s moderated audio forums, in Mandarin, and beyond the Great Firewall of government censorship, RFA said in another piece.
China’s actions are just the latest example of that country’s censorship and restrictions on social media operations in China that USAGM networks face but still report on.
A Voice of America reporter observed a session on Clubhouse and found the moderators treated all users equally, making each wait in line to speak, then imposing time limits. The combination, a new experience for the majority of Chinese users, was exciting because “in the process of waiting to speak — users may have to wait for two or three hours for a turn — they would hear different points of view clearly experience the value of listening,” VOA reported.
Before China blocked the app, tens of thousands of Chinese-speaking participants flocked to a chatroom called “Xinjiang Has Concentration Camps?” on Clubhouse and Halmurat Harri Uyghur, a doctor and activist in Finland was one of them, VOA Mandarin Service reported. “The thing that makes me particularly excited and makes me cry is that many Han people said ‘we are sorry that so many things happened to Uyghurs. We are also very helpless, don’t blame us,’” he told VOA via Skype. The VOA article generated 16.8K pageviews, the video generated 22.7K views, and 8K engagement on Twitter.
— 美国之音中文网 (@VOAChinese) February 20, 2021
Yu Ping, the former China country director of the American Bar Association’s Rule of Law Initiative, told VOA that while only a few people with access to iPhones registered outside China could access Clubhouse, they were often members of “China’s intellectual class, and for the authorities, these are people who need to be more controlled” than ordinary citizens.
Meanwhile, a study from Stanford Internet Observatory in California found the Clubhouse app could pose a security threat to users, particularly those based in China. A Chinese company that provides technical support to the app is required by Chinese law to submit user information to Chinese authorities. A VOA Mandarin Service story about the study received 23K views on Twitter.