Chinese internet users flock to a rare uncensored app to break through the “Great Firewall” and freely discuss taboo subjects such as the masses of Uyghurs, democracy protests in Hong Kong and the concept of Taiwanese independence.
Authoritarian China is employing a huge and sophisticated surveillance state to clear the internet of dissent and prevent citizens from accessing international social networks like Facebook and Twitter.
But Clubhouse seems to have bypassed the censorship – for now.
The American invitation-only audio app enables users to listen to and participate in loosely moderated live conversations in digital “rooms”.
And in the past few days, Chinese internet users have been filling these rooms to discuss highly censored topics – like Beijing’s extensive incarceration of predominantly Muslim Uighur minority communities in far west of Xinjiang.
“A young woman from mainland China just said in the clubhouse: This is my first time on the Internet,” tweeted Isabelle Niu, a journalist listening to a conversation, on Sunday.
Taobao, a popular online marketplace used by millions every day, and other e-commerce sites had invitations to sell members with prices ranging from 10 to 100 yuan ($ 1.5 to $ 15), so some of the restrictions could handle for invitations.
Clubhouse was launched last May and is currently only available on Apple devices, which only wealthier Chinese consumers can afford.
It grew in popularity after billionaire Elon Musk joined a conversation on the app earlier this month.
Emperor Kuo, host of the China-focused Sinica podcast, tweeted live on Sunday some of the conversations he heard in a room about the situation of the Uyghurs.
He noticed how Han Chinese – the dominant ethnic group in China – and people from the persecuted Uighur community interacted in the room.
“Very emotional, tearful occupation of a participant’s ‘Han guilt’ – response from a Uighur man assuring this woman that we are friends, and this atrocity makes the need for friendship even more important,” he tweeted.
An AFP reporter overheard a spokesman who identified himself as a mainland Chinese who spoke out against the term “concentration camp” – despite acknowledging the existence of facilities.
In another case, a participant said that he believed some Western research on the Uighur internment camps, but the number of people affected may have been exaggerated.
Many of the audience were fascinated by the openness of the online discussions.
“I’m in a Taiwan-run room in the clubhouse where 4,000 Mandarin speakers – including Uyghurs and Han Chinese IN CHINA and outside – talk about … everything,” tweeted the Berlin journalist Melissa Chan.
“From monitoring friends who have left re-education camps to doing normal things.”
On Monday, AFP listened to the conversations of the Chinese diaspora as well as individuals in Beijing and discussed whether the app would soon be blocked in China.
Analysts may soon warn Beijing against accessing the app.
“The window for eavesdropping on open clubhouse politics in Chinese is already closed,” said Fergus Ryan of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s International Cyber Policy Center.
(This story was not edited by GossipMantri staff and is automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)