Rare, unmoderated forum for dialogue . . .
After roughly a week of popularity in China and the broader Chinese-speaking world, the Silicon Valley-based app Clubhouse was blocked by China’s Great Firewall on Monday. The invite-only audio-streaming platform, where users can participate in live, public conversations, took off in Asia after Elon Musk touted it in early February. Chinese-speaking users were soon conversing about politically-sensitive issues such as Taiwan-China relations, Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Tibet, and labour conditions in China. The discussions were far from one-sided; many state-affiliated journalists and those with family connections to the Chinese Communist Party's top echelons also joined and posted their reflections. Many in China “scaled the Great Firewall” to continue interacting with their counterparts in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the Chinese diaspora.
Clubhouse’s future under Chinese censorship . . .
The technology behind Clubhouse is far from new to the Chinese tech world. But what made Clubhouse especially popular was the international nature of the conversations and the intimacy of the voice-only interface. As such, there are likely to be Clubhouse spin-offs in China. The app relies on technology from the Shanghai-based company Agora, which initially worried users concerned about data privacy and security. Agora has since attracted significant interest from investors, and entrepreneurs have announced plans to launch Chinese versions of Clubhouse. These spin-offs, however, are unlikely to have the same social impact in demystifying and humanizing social media communities on either side of the Great Firewall.
App gains traction elsewhere in Asia . . .
In Japan, celebrities and famous CEOs adopted Clubhouse in early February to discuss tech, products, and fandom communities. In Southeast Asia, Clubhouse has found an audience mainly within the tech start-up community. Finally, numerous Asian diasporas worldwide, including in the U.S. and Canada, have used the app to practice heritage languages, interact with users from their countries of origin, and discuss social issues such as the rise of anti-Asian violence. Though it remains to be seen how long Clubhouse will trend, the platform offers a kind of virtual intimacy that has not been paralleled in connecting communities across the world.
- Japan Times: Clubhouse tops Japan chart as CEOs and celebrities embrace chat app
- The New York Times: The Great Firewall cracked, briefly. A people shined through.
- South China Morning Post: Agora, the audio company powering Clubhouse, says the internet is ripe for genuine real-time interaction