Clubhouse App Blocked in China, Added to 'Great Firewall': Users, Activists

SHANGHAI (Reuters)-Access to the U.S. audio app Clubhouse was blocked in China on Monday, users and the anti-censorship watchdog said, ending a brief window that permitted thousands of mainland users to enter discussions frequently censored in China.

Launched in early 2020, Clubhouse's global user numbers soared earlier this month after Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Robinhood CEO Vlad Tenev held a surprise discussion on the platform.

Masses of new users have entered from mainland China, taking part in debates on Xinjiang Detention Camps, Taiwan Independence, and Hong Kong National Security Rule.

However, users of China's Twitter-like social media service Weibo started reporting that they had issues accessing the Clubhouse app on Monday night. Some of them showed screenshots of an app message when they tried to open it that said a secure link to the server could not be made.

Anti-censorship activist site GreatFire.org said on Twitter late Monday that the app had been blocked for users in China at about 7 p.m. Beijing time (1100 GMT) on that day.

Like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, many Western social media applications are blocked in China, where the local Internet is tightly controlled and sometimes filtered material that could weaken China's ruling Communist Party.

The Clubhouse did not respond to requests for comments. The China Cyberspace Administration, the country's top internet regulator, did not respond immediately to a faxed request for comments.

"Clubhouse has been walled," said one of the Weibo users on Monday, referring to the mechanism that China uses to control its Internet. 

"It's just too fast," said another. 

A number of Weibo posts addressing the blocking of the app were removed from the site by Tuesday morning.

The Clubhouse app is only available on iOS devices and is not available in China's local Apple app store. Still, Chinese mainland users have been able to access the app by changing their app store's location.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said Tuesday that China controlled its cyberspace by statute, but that he was unaware of the situation around Clubhouse.

The U.S. State Department spokeswoman said the Chinese ban on Clubhouse was not unexpected and called on Beijing to give its people unfettered access to the Internet and other media. 

"Internet freedom is an important right and the key to ensuring that informed citizens can freely share their ideas with each other and their leaders," she said.

As the first rumors of Internet disruptions started on Monday, almost 3,000 users opened a Clubhouse room to discuss whether Chinese censors had been blocked. Some expressed fear that the authorities might track the discussions.

As the first rumors of Internet disruptions started on Monday, almost 3,000 users opened a Clubhouse room to discuss whether Chinese censors had been blocked. Some expressed fear that the authorities might track the discussions.

Some users have encouraged others not to worry. 

"Let the bullets go for a while now. Let's track for the first few days, don't panic," said one guy.

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Clubhouse App Blocked in China, Added to 'Great Firewall': Users, Activists