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Freedom of SpeechAsia

China blocks Clubhouse app, users say

February 8, 2021

The app became a safer space for Chinese-speaking users to discuss such issues as Tibet, Hong Kong and the detention of Uighurs. But users had been expecting that authorities wouldn't leave Clubhouse uncensored.

A phone screen showing the Clubhouse app.
The invite-only app is only available on Apple devices Image: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto/picture alliance

China has blocked the US invite-only audio app Clubhouse, users said on Monday. 

The app had briefly gained popularity as a platform for free discussions.

The ban was trending in its Chinese-language chat rooms after users received an error message of failed secure connection without a VPN.

A tweet by a New York Times journalist in China, Paul Mozur, showed the error message. "Multiple people across China reporting Clubhouse now blocked," Mozur wrote. 

Clubhouse is an exclusive app that is only available on Apple devices, which typically only wealthier people can afford in China. However, it became a platform for users to freely discuss thorny subjects.

Those included typically censored issues in China such as the mass detention of Uighur Muslims and the protests in Hong Kong

Users predicted the ban

Chinese-speaking Clubhouse users were expecting authorities to eventually censor the app. 

"I saw many rooms chatting cross-Straits issues and sensitive issues... and thought this app wouldn't last too long," one user told AFP. 

Another said that they were worried China would go after the app's users following the ban.

In a tweet, Fergus Ryan, an analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute's International Cyber Policy Center, warned Clubhouse users before the ban to be careful with their discussions, predicting a looming block. 

China expands ‘Great Firewall'  

Clubhouse is the latest app that China has censored in the crackdown on internet platforms.

Chinese users have struggled to access international social networking sites, including Facebook and Twitter. The prohibition is commonly referred to as the "Great Firewall."

How does the great firewall of China work?

Neither Chinese authorities nor Clubhouse app have commented on the reported block yet. 

fb/rt (AFP, Reuters)

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