Private social audio app Clubhouse is attracting masses of new users from mainland China, where the US app remains uncensored by authorities despite flourishing discussions on rights, national identity, and other sensitive topics.
Western social media apps including Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube are banned in China, where the local Internet is tightly censored to weed out content that could undermine the ruling communist party.
Its chat rooms are only accessible via invites from current members, and as of Sunday, invites to the platform were selling for between CNY 50 (roughly Rs. 560) - CNY 400 (roughly Rs. 4,500) on popular Chinese e-commerce sites.
Reuters directly observed several Chinese-language 'club' conversations where thousands of users listened to wide-ranging audio discussions covering topics including Xinjiang detention camps, Taiwan independence and Hong Kong's National Security Law.
China's cyber authorities have become increasingly strict in recent years, widening the scope of apps, media outlets, and social media sites banned in the country.
Mainland Chinese users can access the app by modifying the location of their app store.
It's unclear why the app remains unblocked in China, though some foreign social sites with small Chinese followings manage to operate under the radar of censors, including 8kun, a central hub for QAnon followers.
In one club chat centred on Hong Kong politics, activists, journalists, and artists discussed former US president Trump and his support base in the former colony.
Another popular Chinese language club on the site as of Saturday involved a rare open exchange between netizens in mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong over heightened political tensions in the region.
"I don't know how long this environment can last", said one user in a popular Weibo post that was liked over 65,000 times. "But I will definitely remember this moment in Internet history."
© Thomson Reuters 2021
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