Koo App: An ‘Atmanirbhar’ Option As Govt-Twitter Tension Simmers

Union ministers Ravi Shankar Prasad, Piyush Goyal as well as Union Electronics & IT Ministry are all on ‘Koo’ app.

4 min read
Hindi Female

‘Koo’ app, a desi alternative to Twitter, has been gaining ground as a micro-blogging platform with several Union ministers and government functionaries joining it.

The app’s uptick is significant and comes at a time when the Centre has been at loggerheads with Twitter over blocking of accounts and content related to the farmers’ protests.

The Union Electronics & IT Ministry has sent separate demands to the micro-blogging platform to take 257 accounts related a controversial hashtag as well as 1,178 accounts allegedly associated with the Khalistani movement. Twitter has pushed back against both demands.


Koo, which launched in 2020 and has been recognised as one of the ‘atmanirbhar’ apps by Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself, is being dubbed by many as an alternative to Twitter at a time when reports indicate the US company could face legal action from the Indian government if it fails to speedily comply with repeated requests to delete about 1,400 handles.

An Economic Times report, citing sources, reported that the Centre wants to give the US company some more “time” to comply with the requests as it doesn’t want to be seen as “high-handed or vindictive.”

Union Electronics & IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, Union Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal are among the government heavyweights who have accounts on Koo. Other government entities, mostly under the Union Electronics & IT Ministry, that are present on the app include MyGov, Digital India, India Post, NIC, UMANG.

Koo, which has marketed itself as an app catering to Indian languages, says that a “majority of the internet has been in English. Koo is an attempt to make the voice of these Indians heard.”

The app, however, comes months after another app ‘Tooter’, claiming to be a “swadeshi” and “made in India” alternative to Twitter, has struggled to scale up and is primarily used by right-wing voices.


Koo: An ‘Atmanirbhar App’ Looking to Replace Twitter

Built by entrepreneurs Aprameya Radhakrishna and Mayank Bidawatka, Koo is a microblogging platform through which users can communicate in their mother tongue via text, audio, and videos. Koo is currently available in four languages: Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, and Kannada.

In it’s about section, Koo states, “Just 10 percent of India speaks English. Almost 1 billion people in India don't know English. Instead, they speak one of India's 100s of languages. They are now getting access to smartphones and would love an internet in their language.”

Catering largely to an internet user base that prefers to communicate in Indian languages, the app has notched up over a million followers.

Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has over 4.48 lakh followers on the platform. He currently has over 48 lakh followers on Twitter.

While the the layout and design of the app resembles Twitter to a large extent, the app allows cross posting, where users can directly share posts on Facebook and WhatsApp.


Tooter: A Swadeshi Repackaged White Label App

“We believe that India should have a Swadeshi social network,” reads Tooter’s ‘About’ section. The new microblogging platform, modelled on the lines of Twitter, aims to offer users an app that is Indian.

The app, launched in July having a current user base of over 50,000, claims it has launched a “Swadeshi Andolan 2.0.” and asks users to join them in this movement.

The app cautions users that without a true-blue homespun app, “we are just a digital colony of the American Twitter India Company, no different than what we were under the British East India Company.”

However, an app that offers to be an authentic alternative to the American platform mimics nearly every aspect of Twitter on the frontend while being built on the backend as a clone of far-right US social network

Gab is an English-language alt-tech social networking service known for its far-right user base. The site has been widely described as a haven for extremists including neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and the alt-right, and has attracted users and groups who have been banned from other social networks.

A look at its backend revealed that, in a case of white labelling, Tooter was calling APIs of Gab. In other words, Tooter appears to be a clone of an already existing app.


Faceoff with Twitter

Twitter has reportedly reached out to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) after the central government asked it on 4 February to remove more than 1,000 accounts for allegedly spreading misinformation and provocative content in connection with the ongoing farm protests.

The US Tech giant also notified that the safety of its employees is of top priority right now. “Safety of our employees is a top priority for us at Twitter. We continue to be engaged with the Government of India from a position of respect and have reached out to the Honourable Minister, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology for a formal dialogue,” a Twitter spokesperson said.

On 1 February, 257 accounts were ‘withheld because of a legal demand’ from the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology and remained unavailable in India for most of the day.

They were subsequently restored by Twitter, which pushed back against the blocking in discussions with the government at a meeting on 1 February.

Incensed by the restoration of these accounts, on Wednesday, 3 February, in a sternly-worded letter the Union Electronics and IT Ministry informed Twitter once again, “It may be noted that as per Indian law, with which Twitter is bound to comply, Twitter is an ‘intermediary’” and that penal action could be taken against it.

The move by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology to have accounts on Koo “signals the government's search for an alternative social media platform to Twitter in case the microblogging platform faces any penal action by the government, or gets suspended in India,” a YourStory report states.

(With inputs from Economic Times, YourStory)

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