On Monday, the Chinese government banned Clubhouse in a predictable move for a notoriously strict government in regard to a platform that’s incredibly hard for any force, including the app’s management itself, to control.
Clubhouse is an audio-based social media app where creators can found different chats about any subject and speak to people around the world who joined the chat. Think podcast meets chatroom. Anyone can join a chat from anywhere on pretty much any subject, and the freedom this provides is enormous.
For citizens of China, the upsides to this are obvious. The platform fosters interesting conversations with people from different parts of China and allows them to discuss what’s going on without the stringent restrictions on internet usage that Chinese citizens are usually bound by.
On Monday evening, Chinese Clubhouse users started receiving error messages and were only able to access the app using virtual private networks or not at all. Searches for the word “Clubhouse” were banned from other popular Chinese social media apps.
No one knows for sure how many Chinese users were on the app before the ban. Although Clubhouse remains relatively small compared to other major social media apps, mostly due to its invite-only model and its availability only on iPhones, it’s quickly growing. Last week, Clubhouse experienced a sudden surge in popularity in mainland China, although the majority of Chinese users are on an Android operating system and therefore are unable to access Clubhouse.
Because of the invite-only model that Clubhouse uses, people in China began selling invitations to the app for up to $70. Several Chinese language chatrooms, each with a 5,000 user capacity, were completely filled over the course of the last week. These users were not only Chinese users from the mainland, but also Chinese-speaking users in other countries as well as many users from Hong Kong and Taiwan. This surge, and the ability to communicate openly with Tawain and Hong Kong-based users, led to the eventual ban, although Clubhouse users were a small number in the grand scheme of the Chinese population.
Chinese users seemingly jumped on the idea that they could openly and freely discuss topics, like the persecution of Uighurs, that are otherwise completely banned on the country’s internet and social media systems. Clubhouse—and its inability to record or regulate conversations—provided, however temporarily, a safe haven for free political expression and conversations the Chinese government would otherwise never allow.
As such, the Chinese government unsurprisingly moved swiftly to shut it down. Clubhouse now joins the ranks of Twitter, WhatsApp, Facebook, and YouTube, all of which are banned in China.