china| chinaauthorShen LuNoneDavid Wertime and our data-obsessed China team analyze China tech for you. Every Wednesday, with alerts on key stories and research.9338dd5bb5
×

Get access to Protocol

I’ve already subscribed

Will be used in accordance with our Privacy Policy

Bulletins

Last-minute scramble as China firewalls Clubhouse

Last-minute scramble as China firewalls Clubhouse
That didn't last long. Less than a week after Clubhouse exploded in the Chinese-speaking world — at least those with a VPN and access to the Apple app store — Clubhouse is banned in China. Chinese users reported Monday evening Asia time that it was blocked. As usual, the Chinese government did not issue an announcement or explain its reasoning; news simply spread that the app had become inaccessible.

Clubhouse had provided the first real opportunity in over a decade for Chinese-speaking populations — including mainland Chinese, Hong Kongers, Taiwanese and the larger Chinese diaspora — to communicate with each other, uncensored, in one place. Facebook and Twitter were censored in China in 2009, following deadly riots in Xinjiang in Western China.

What's happening:

  • People from "inside" the Chinese state system, or with families in state law enforcement were on it, too. Not only were they lurking, they were speakers, too. One user on Monday night just said that they believed Clubhouse wouldn't be banned in China overnight because China was becoming more confident in its governance. Ironically, Clubhouse became inaccessible in China a few hours after that assessment was made.
  • Many mainland Chinese users are still on Clubhouse, for now. They continued to access Clubhouse via VPNs Monday night after the block.
  • Users are hurriedly exchanging alternative contact info while they can. They are worried that it soon might become harder for them to access Clubhouse. Some have changed their profile images to QR codes to various Clubhouse friend groups on WeChat. Some have listed their Weibo and Douban handles in bios.
  • It was a rare, remarkable moment. Candid conversations occurred in multiple chat rooms on Clubhouse over the past week between Han Chinese, Uyghurs, Taiwanese, Hong Kongers and the overseas diaspora. On Sunday, more than 4,500 people tuned in to a Mandarin chat room discussing massive human rights abuse in Xinjiang. The conversations went on for hours and moved many listeners. Politics was just one topic discussed on the platform. Users were talking just about everything — art, life, work, gossip. Artist Ai Weiwei called the week of expression bursts a carnival.

How users are reacting:

    • Many fear repercussions for their use of Clubhouse. The fear is not unfounded. One troll said they took screenshots and claimed that they had recorded many of the conversations and had a transcript. Many Chinese users have expressed unease about Agora, the technology provider behind Clubhouse and a NASDAQ-listed Chinese tech company with operations in both China and the U.S. Users say they fear that the Chinese government could collect user bios and acoustic fingerprints through Agora. One Agora co-founder, Tony Wang, has told the South China Morning Post that the company doesn't store user data.
    • Some are still hopeful. The rare, unfiltered Mandarin conversations that occurred on Clubhouse gave slim hope to many Chinese Clubhouse users who felt their voices had long been suppressed. Some are still hopeful and wish to keep the conversations going. One Chinese user told Protocol the past few days restored their optimism and faith in social media. Rayhan E. Asat, a Uyghur lawyer who lives in the U.S. and who says her brother, Ekpar Asat, is in an internment camp in Xinjiang, said it was heartening to see the solidarity between Han people, Uyghurs and other Turkic people. "I hope people can find ways to continue these discussions so that together we can close these brutal concentration camps," she told Protocol. "I don't believe Han people wish to be citizens of a country that commits genocide but a country that celebrates diversity."
    • "It was worthwhile." Zuola, a dissident blogger in Taiwan who moderated a marathon chat room that facilitated conversations between mainlanders, Taiwanese and Hong Kongers, said the fact that people from different backgrounds were able to speak in an orderly manner and share their thoughts proves that "democracy is a good thing." "By asking participants to just share ideas, not to refute others' views, I was able to create a sense of a moderate and rational community," he told Protocol. "Many people were touched to have such an environment to speak and listen, which made me feel that the 130 hours of non-stop live streaming was worthwhile."
    People

    No editing, no hashtags: Dispo wants you to live in the moment

    David Dobrik's new photography app harkens back to the days of the disposable camera.

    Dispo turns the concept of a photography app into something altogether different.

    Image: Katya Sapozhnina, Diana Morgan, Amanda Luke

    Instagram was once a place to share Starbucks cups and high-contrast pet photos. After Facebook acquired it in 2012, it has turned into a competition of getting as many likes as possible (using the same formula over and over: post the best highly-curated, edited photos with the funniest captions). More recently, it's essentially become a shopping mall, with brands falling over themselves to be heard through the noise. Doing something "for the gram" — scaling buildings, posting the same cringe picture over and over — became the norm. Pop-up museums litter cities with photo ops for posts; "camera eats first"; everything can be a cute Instagram story; everything is content.

    And to be clear, Dispo — a buzzy new photography app that just came out of beta — is still a place for content. It probably isn't going to fix our collective online brains and their inclination to share everything about our private lives with others online. It's still an app, and it's still social media, and it encourages documenting your life. But it runs pretty differently than any other image-sharing app out there. And that might be what helps it stand out in an oversaturated market of social networking apps.

    Keep Reading Show less
    Jane Seidel

    Jane Seidel is Protocol's social media manager. She was previously a platform producer at The Wall Street Journal, creating mobile content and crafting alert strategy. Prior to that, she worked in audience development at WSJ and on digital editorial at NBC Universal. She lives in Brooklyn.

    Sponsored Content

    Building better relationships in the age of all-remote work

    How Stripe, Xero and ModSquad work with external partners and customers in Slack channels to build stronger, lasting relationships.

    Image: Original by Damian Zaleski

    Every business leader knows you can learn the most about your customers and partners by meeting them face-to-face. But in the wake of Covid-19, the kinds of conversations that were taking place over coffee, meals and in company halls are now relegated to video conferences—which can be less effective for nurturing relationships—and email.

    Email inboxes, with hard-to-search threads and siloed messages, not only slow down communication but are also an easy target for scammers. Earlier this year, Google reported more than 18 million daily malware and phishing emails related to Covid-19 scams in just one week and more than 240 million daily spam messages.

    Keep Reading Show less
    Transforming 2021

    Blockchain, QR codes and your phone: the race to build vaccine passports

    Digital verification systems could give people the freedom to work and travel. Here's how they could actually happen.

    One day, you might not need to carry that physical passport around, either.

    Photo: CommonPass

    There will come a time, hopefully in the near future, when you'll feel comfortable getting on a plane again. You might even stop at the lounge at the airport, head to the regional office when you land and maybe even see a concert that evening. This seemingly distant reality will depend upon vaccine rollouts continuing on schedule, an open-sourced digital verification system and, amazingly, the blockchain.

    Several countries around the world have begun to prepare for what comes after vaccinations. Swaths of the population will be vaccinated before others, but that hasn't stopped industries decimated by the pandemic from pioneering ways to get some people back to work and play. One of the most promising efforts is the idea of a "vaccine passport," which would allow individuals to show proof that they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 in a way that could be verified by businesses to allow them to travel, work or relax in public without a great fear of spreading the virus.

    Keep Reading Show less
    Mike Murphy

    Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

    Latest Stories