Clubhouse Users in China Say Service Appears to Be Blocked

Users of red-hot social media platform Clubhouse in China said they were unable to use the app on Monday, after an explosion of discussions over the weekend on taboo topics from Taiwan to Xinjiang.

Reports of users being unable to use the invite-only, audio-based app appeared on other social-media platforms such as Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s WeChat and Sina Corp.’s microblogging platform Weibo. On Twitter, which is blocked in China, users claiming to be in the country posted screenshots of Clubhouse’s home screen saying that an error had occurred and that a secure connection to the server could not be made.

Clubhouse had erupted among Chinese users over the weekend, with thousands joining discussions on contentious subjects undisturbed by Beijing’s censors.

On the app, where users host informal conversations, Chinese-speaking communities from around the world gathered to discuss China-Taiwan relations and the prospects of unification, and to share their knowledge and experience of Beijing’s crackdown on Muslim Uighurs in the far west region of Xinjiang.

“While years ago, censors might have waited until something disruptive happened, it appears authorities would rather in this case shut down this new cross-border civic space before it becomes widely available,” said Graham Webster of the Stanford University Cyber Policy Center. “The brief, highly limited opening provided a glimpse of the on line public sphere Chinese citizens enjoyed in the late 2000s before it was gradually but steadily eroded by government-enforced controls.”

Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters on Tuesday that he’s not aware of the specific situation relating to Clubhouse, adding that China’s government regulates the online space in accordance to its rules and regulations. Beijing is resolute in opposing external interference, Wang also said.

The Communist Party-backed Global Times on Monday criticized the growing popularity of Clubhouse, citing some Chinese users as saying political discussions on the platform were often one-sided and that pro-Chinese voices were easily suppressed.

Until mainland-based users began experiencing technical difficulties, Clubhouse was gaining traction in mainland China. The hashtag #Clubhouse attracted more than 51 million views on Weibo, while the question “Why Clubhouse is so popular” generated hundreds of answers on Zhihu, a Chinese Q&A site. The surge in interest also created a new business, as dozens of stores on Alibaba’s online marketplaces appeared to be selling invitation codes to the app for as much as 288 yuan ($44.60) each.

The company did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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