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Popular Political Discussion App Clubhouse Blocked in China


The social audio app Clubhouse is pictured near a star on the Chinese flag in this illustration picture taken February 8, 2021. (REUTERS/Florence Lo/Illustration)
Popular Political Discussion App Clubhouse Blocked in China
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A social media app called Clubhouse, which became popular for political discussions in China, has been blocked within the country.

Thousands of Chinese users had recently been using the app to discuss issues that are often censored in China. Earlier this week, users began reporting difficulties connecting to the service.

Clubhouse was blocked in China around 1100 UTC on Monday, reported GreatFire.org. The American nonprofit group watches developments in China’s huge internet filtering system and tries to help users get around it.

Officials from Clubhouse and China’s Cyberspace Administration had no immediate comment on the blockage.

Clubhouse was launched in March 2020 by two American businessmen. The app permits users to communicate through audio in virtual discussion rooms. There are many rooms covering different subjects and users can create their own room.

People who want to join the app must be approved after receiving an invitation from someone who already has it. Users seeking acceptance are required to provide their names and telephone numbers.

That requirement raised questions about the possibility the government may have listened to private discussions on Clubhouse and could try to punish users. There were no signs that such punishments had yet happened, The Associated Press reported.

One user warned others: “I advise everyone not to use your real photo as your profile picture, and not to link your Clubhouse account to your Twitter.”

China’s ruling Communist Party also blocks access to Facebook, Twitter and other social media services. Also blocked are websites run by news organizations, human rights groups and pro-democracy activists. The internet filtering system is known as China’s Great Firewall.

Users within China can still access blocked apps like Clubhouse using a virtual private network, or VPN. A VPN uses software to link to private computer networks outside the country to make it appear that the device or computer is based overseas.

CNN reported that many people were using VPNs to stay on Clubhouse. One such user who spoke to the news network was Susan Liang, from Shenzhen.

"It is too rare an opportunity. Everyone has lived under the Great Firewall for so long, but on (Clubhouse), we can talk about anything," Liang said. "It's like someone drowning and can finally breathe in a large gulp of air."

However, she said some people also fear being targeted for using VPNs, which are illegal in China unless approved by the government. Another user advised people not to discuss which VPN they were now using to access the app.

While Clubhouse was still available, VOA Mandarin observed several Chinese-language rooms where users joined discussions on wide-ranging and sensitive subjects. These included Uighur rights, the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, Taiwan’s independence, China’s national identity and gender issues.

However, the Chinese government tightly controls online discussion within the country. Many users said they were not surprised when the app was blocked. “After seeing people discuss so many political issues here in previous days, I knew right away that Clubhouse will be walled - and so it was,” one user said.

Yaqiu Wang is a researcher with Human Rights Watch. She said on the organization’s website that people from all sides of politics came together to discuss important issues, with many disagreements arising.

But Wang added: “People on Clubhouse appeared to truly try and put themselves in the shoes of others. It was wonderful to see a unifying internet in which Chinese-speakers from around the world communicated with each other in one shared online space.”

I’m Bryan Lynn.

The Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France-Presse and VOA News reported on this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the reports for Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.

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Words in This Story

app n. a computer application or program used for a specific purpose

censor v. to examine books, movies and media to remove things that are not approved of by a government or society

filterv. a permit some things through but not others

virtualadj. something that exists in computers or on the internet, and that is not physical

profile n. information that describes someone’s identity, often including a picture

access n. the ability to use something

opportunityn. an amount of time or a situation in which something can be done

gulp n. to swallow a large amount of something quickly

origins n. the beginnings of something

gender –n. the state of being male or female

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