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“A Breath of Fresh Air” – Clubhouse App Discussed by Chinese Social Media Users

Some Chinese social media users describe Clubhouse as “a small crack in the window.”

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Some call it “a breath of fresh air”, but others would rather read a book. The Clubhouse app is a hot topic among Chinese social media users.

What is Clubhouse? Why is Clubhouse so hot? Would you pay 1000 dollars to enter Clubhouse?

These are just a few of the hashtags and questions relating to the new drop-in audio social media platform Clubhouse that have been making their rounds on Chinese sites such as Weibo, WeChat, Douban and Zhihu over the past week or so, with discussions about the app really taking off on Saturday night.

Clubhouse describes itself as “a space for casual, drop-in audio conversations—with friends and other interesting people around the world” where you can “go online anytime to chat with the people you follow, or hop in as a listener and hear what others are talking about.”

The app has virtual rooms and events themed around various topics – anything from politics to music – and lets hundreds of members join conversations as moderators, speakers, or listeners.

The new social media app is currently only accessible to iPhone users who have an invite to join. There’s a growing online market for selling and buying invites in order to join the platform.

Although Clubhouse has been around for some months already, it gained massive attention all around the world this week when Elon Musk went live in the app with a group of 5000 listeners (the maximum capacity of each Clubhouse room) on January 31st. Musk sat down for a chat with the Robinhood CEO Vlad Tenev. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg also made an appearance on Clubhouse on February 4.

Elon Musk announced his Clubhouse appearance on Twitter on January 31.

The Clubhouse app was developed by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Paul Davison and ex-Google employee Rohan Seth. It was first launched in April 2020 on iOs only.

 

“One big boring seminar” 

 

At this time, the Clubhouse app is freely accessible from within China for those people who have an invite, but only if they have access to the non-Chinese Apple store to download the app.

As a result, pages explaining how to download the app and how to register for it are mushrooming online.

There are some people on Weibo sharing their positive experiences with the app, calling the quality of the conversations “high-quality,” “interesting,” and “helpful.”

But there are also many skeptics on Chinese social media. Tech blogger Shǒuzhōng Zhǎngwò (@手中掌握), for example, wrote that Clubhouse is only hyped because of Elon Musk at this time and that its basic function is not much different from joining live broadcasts. The app is also popular because it is invite-only at this point, giving it a somewhat prestigious reputation that allegedly won’t last.

There are also people who say joining Clubhouse felt like joining company meetings. Online tech blogger Yiyangish (@一杨ish) said that Clubhouse feels like “everyone having meetings all over the place,” with people willingly choosing to work outside of work time.

“This is like joining my company meetings!” another blogger said, with other commenters saying they’d rather read a book.

“It’s like one big boring seminar,” another Weibo blogger wrote.

 

“A Small Crack in the Window”

 

But Clubhouse is also an online platform where conversations take place that would otherwise not happen within China’s digital landscape.

“I just joined a chat room on Clubhouse that was about ‘does Xinjiang have concentration camps?'” one Weibo user writes: “It is so cool to raise your hand and line up with other Chinese-speaking people who are concerned about current affairs and politics and talk about on human rights, ethnicity, policies, international relations, etc., and to express your views on the basis of etiquette.”

That same Weibo user also expressed that Clubhouse was like a “breath of fresh air” in an online environment that is otherwise closed off from these kinds of conversations.

The virtual room discussing Xinjiang also made its rounds on Twitter on February 6, with Sinica podcast host Kaiser Kuo (@kaiserkuo) discussing the conversation in a Twitter thread (embedded below) and other Twitter users, from the Economist‘s China Affairs Editor Gady Epstein (@gadyepstein) to journalist Melissa Chan (@melissakchan) publishing Tweets about the ongoing conversations on Xinjiang on Clubhouse.

Meanwhile, on Weibo, the civilized and open character of the Clubhouse conversations were praised, allowing a broader understanding of issues that otherwise remain untouched or are limited within the Chinese social media sphere – not just about Xinjiang, but also about the status of Hong Kong and about issues such as whether or not (overseas) Chinese are willing to return to the mainland and why. “It is like a small crack in a window,” one person said.

“It’s in the middle of the night and I’m still on Clubhouse!” and “I’m on a Clubhouse marathon”, some users said, with others wondering if the “entire world” was currently looking for a Clubhouse invite.

While Clubhouse is a hot topic on platforms such as Weibo and WeChat, many people do wonder how long it will take before the app is pulled offline within mainland China, with some suggesting “it’s just a matter of time” before the app is blocked.

“I hope it stays accessible from within China,” one (overseas) Weibo user writes: “This place is lit.”

By Manya Koetse

Featured image by Ivan Vranić

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Digital

How Social Media Is Speeding Up Zhengzhou Flooding Rescue Efforts

Chinese social media are speeding up local rescue efforts after Zhengzhou saw the heaviest rain in 1,000 years.

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Social media is utilized as a tool in the response to the floodings in Henan province. Once again, Weibo facilitates active public participation to provide immediate assistance to the people facing this natural disaster. 

On Tuesday, July 20, heavy rainfall caused major disruptions in the central province of Henan. The amount of rain over the last three days in Zhengzhou is reported to be the same as what it would usually receive in an entire year.

It is reported that Henan Province has initiated the highest-level emergency response to floods, and China’s State Flood Control and Drought Relief Bureau has dispatched a workgroup to Henan, initiating level III emergency response rescue work.

Since the evening of July 20, news and information streams on the heavy rains and floods have been dominating Chinese social media. In the midst of the disastrous events, Weibo has become an online space for people seeking help, those disseminating information on available resources, and for other related activities that help netizens engage in emergency management and accessing information.

The volume of such messages is huge, with thousands of netizens seeking ways to help speed up rescue work and actively contribute to the emergency relief efforts.

The organically improvised response protocol on social media includes the following guidelines:

  • Verify, summarize, highlight, and spread online help requests posted by people from different locations
  • Remind people to delete help-seeking posts once they have been rescued or have found assistance.
  • Disseminate relevant knowledge relating to emergency care and response, and public health information, such as how to deal with different disaster scenarios, warning people about the safety of drinking water during floods, etc.
  • Share information regarding mental health and psychosocial support during the different phases of the disaster.

 

When posts of people trapped by the heavy rain started to be published on Weibo, many online influencers, no matter what subject they usually focus on, participated in spreading help-request posts that were not getting a lot of online attention.

Erdi 耳帝, a music influencer with nearly 15 million fans on Weibo, has been retweeting the online posts of people asking for help since the night of July 20.

The social media influencer Erdi has been kept retweeting asking-for-help posts since the night of July 20.

An example of such an online emergency help request (求助贴) is the following post of July 21st, 17:15 local time:

Our entire neighborhood is cut off from water and electricity, the water level is rising to chest level, and we currently have no drinking water at the moment. Need help urgently.

Status: Verified, pending rescue.
Seeking help: Wu M**, phone 13*****27
Number of people to be rescued: five or six thousand
Location: Zhengzhou City, Henan Province, Zhengdong New District, Shangdu / Xuzhuang Street intersection, east courtyard of Shangdu Jiayuan Muzhuang district (we can’t exit the building, there is no water, no electricity, no supplies, and it’s been 24 hours)

Once people who have been trapped by the water are rescued, the user who published the post will delete the original post to make sure other emergency posts are also noticed and disseminated.

Some Weibo users engage in organizing scattered online information in one single post, e.g. posts regarding local electricity leakage, making this information more accessible and easier to understand.

One post that was among the top-shared ones this week, is a picture that includes contact information of rescue teams of both officials and civilians. When realizing that some people were unable to upload the picture due to poor internet connections caused by the heavy rain, an up-to-date and full-text version was quickly shared by netizens.

Some Weibo users listed various methods to get assistance for hearing-impaired and deaf-mute people affected by the floods, advising people to download various apps to help to communicate and translate.

Besides the more general practical advice and emergency action plans shared by Chinese social media users, there are also those who pay attention to the importance of personal hygiene during these times. Some are sending out information about menstrual hygiene needs during floods, reminding women to frequently change sanitary pads and try to keep the genital area clean and dry due to the risk of infection. A hashtag related to menstruation during the flooding momentarily ranked fifth in the top search lists (#河南暴雨 如果你出在经期<).

Information on mental health support is disseminated all across social media.

People also try to provide mental support in other ways. A student orchestra spontaneously performed at the Zhengzhou station, where dozens of passengers were left stranded in the night. The video clips of the performance went viral, with the young musicians playing two widely-known songs, “My People, My Country” (我和我的祖国) and “Ode to the Motherland” (歌唱祖国). Many social media users shared the clips and expressed how the performance moved them to tears.

Some video clips that show how ordinary people save ordinary people amid such a natural disaster have also been widely shared. One video shows citizens of Zhengzhou standing in a line and use a rope to pull people from an underground floor where they were trapped by the water flooded.

In all the aforementioned ways and many more, Weibo has become a public platform for Chinese people to respond to the Henan disaster, efficiently communicate and keep track of help requests, organize and disseminate related information, and provide access to timely knowledge and relevant advice.

With so many online influencers and ordinary netizens voluntarily joining in, the online information flows are quickly circulating, allowing for necessary public communication channels while other resources and communication methods are still overwhelmed or in the making. The last time Weibo was used as an efficient emergency communication tool was during the early days of the COVID19 outbreak in Wuhan.

“Please stand strong, Zhengzhou” and “Hang on, Henan,” many commenters write: “Help is underway!”

Also see our previous article on the situation in Zhengzhou here.

By Wendy Huang

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. Please note that your comment below will need to be manually approved if you’re a first-time poster here.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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China Digital

The Disappearing Emoji on Weibo in Light of June 4

No candle or cake emoji on Weibo on June 4th.

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This week marks the anniversary of the Tiananmen student protests which started in April 1989 and ended with the violent crackdown on June 4th of that year.

It is the time of the year that censorship on Chinese social media intensifies, which is noticeable in various ways.

One noteworthy change is the disappearance of various Weibo emoji. Already in 2012, China Digital Times reported that the Sina Weibo platform quietly removed the candle icon from its collection of “frequently used emoticons” just before June 4. A year later, Shanghaiist also reported that the candle emoji had once again been removed, making the disappearing emoji a questionable annual Weibo tradition.

On Twitter, BBC reporter Kerry Allen (@kerrya11en) posted earlier that usually at this of year, it is not just the candle that disappears from Weibo’s list of emoji, but also the leaf, the cake, the ribbon, and the present.

A screenshot taken by What’s on Weibo on June 1st of this year showed that all emoji were still available.

But on June 3rd, three emoji had disappeared from the list, including the falling leaf (风吹叶落), candle (蜡烛), and cake (生日蛋糕).

Screenshot June 1 2021 (left) versus June 3 2021 (right).

The disappearance of the emoji means that Weibo posts that were previously made by official media using these emoji also no longer contain them – instead, only the emoji description shows up.

To circumvent censorship, social media users in China often use emoji, creative language, or images to get their message across. To keep discussions on the violent events of June 4 contained, online censors also crack down on sensitive words, numbers, photographs, and symbols.

At this time, the term ‘Tiananmen’ has not been banned on Weibo, but the only posts using the term are official ones about another anniversary, namely that of the Communist Party. The Communist Party of China will mark its 100th anniversary in July.

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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