China blocks Clubhouse, app used for political discussion

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The icon for the social media app Clubhouse is seen on a smartphone screen in Beijing, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021. Chinese authorities are blocking access to Clubhouse, a social media app that allowed users in China to discuss sensitive topics with people abroad including Taiwan and treatment of the countrys Muslim minority. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

BEIJING – Zeng Jiajun, a former tech worker, fell in love with social media app Clubhouse, a window through the ruling Communist Party's pervasive censorship, after listening to a freewheeling discussion between members of China's Uighur minority and Han majority that wound up lasting 12 hours.

Thousands of Chinese flocked to the app, which allowed unfettered discussion with people abroad about democracy, Taiwan and other sensitive topics at a time when President Xi Jinping's government is increasingly hostile to independent voices.

“This kind of communication is rare,” Zeng said. “Hearing someone’s voice can make both sides realize we’re all human.”

On Monday, that window slammed shut when Chinese users lost access to Clubhouse, adding it to thousands of websites and social media apps the ruling party blocks the public from seeing using the world's most extensive system of internet filters.

Service in China was cut off at about 7 p.m. (1100 GMT) on Monday, according to GreatFire.org, a nonprofit U.S. group that monitors Chinese internet filtering and tries to help users circumvent it.

Clubhouse didn't respond to requests for comment.

Xi's government refuses to acknowledge the existence of its internet filters, known informally as the Great Firewall of China. Researchers abroad trace blockages to servers at state-owned China Telecom Ltd. through which internet traffic is required to pass.

Xi’s government is trying to promote the notion of “internet sovereignty,” or the right of political leaders to limit what their publics see online.