When Twitter banned former US President Donald Trump from his platform, a number of his supporters flocked to Speak, a social network that has become home to the right.
But after several calls for violence and privacy leaks, it kicked off from Google Play Store, Apple’s App Store, and even Amazon’s cloud services in January. Gaining traction at launch was for naught as it faced the consequences of hosting problematic content.
On the other side of the planetIndia is also trying to promote a local alternative to Twitter called Koo. It happened after the Silicon Valley company failed to comply with a government order and restored a few accounts – including posts, activists and actors – after briefly blocking them. The authorities then criticized the actions of the social network and even threatened criminal prosecution.
As the world moves towards the Splinternet, India tries to define its own versions through local laws and promote local applications. In this story, we’ll take a look at Twitter’s fight with the Indian government, Koo’s opportunity to take advantage of it, and the challenges he might face in trying to build on his nationalist ties.
Twitter and India
Although it is a smaller social network than Facebook, Instagram or TikTok, Twitter has always generated a lot of conversations around the world, thanks to high-profile personalities posting announcements and breaking news on the network. platform, from global leaders to large corporations.
The platform has taken proactive action against users who violate its terms of service in the United States – at least for about a year. But its actions in India have often been slow and culturally out of context.
India is a major market for the social networking platform, with over 17 million monthly active users.
Twitter has seen controversial times in the past in India. In 2018, when CEO Jack Dorsey visited India, he held up a poster – which dealt with a controversial caste issue – that some Indians found offensive. The company then had to apologize for this.
In 2019, ahead of the country’s national elections, a group of Indian government officials alleged that Twitter was biased against the conservatives and deleted the accounts with a right-wing lean. They also sent a summons to Dorsey to appear before a committee to get her perspective on “safeguarding citizens’ rights on social media / online platforms”. Dorsey did not attend.
Twitter’s latest dispute comes as India tries to push local alternatives to global platforms. Moreover, the company’s moderation decisions have given the government the perfect reason to promote a more nationalistic platform.
What is Koo?
The app won the challenge from the Atmanirbhar government (“stand-alone” in Hindi) which challenged local developers to build world-class apps. As a result, the new social network is now being promoted by various government authorities.
The app works much like Twitter. You have your timeline, people to follow, and posts (Koos?). You can post text, GIFs, images, and videos just like you would on Twitter. The users of the user profile pages and the rest of the app interface are also quite similar except for a different color scheme.
Switch to a new platform
It wasn’t just the right-wing people who tried to switch platforms. In 2019, Twitter restricted or blocked the accounts of activists from minority castes. This caused outrage among users and they started to quit the platform and urged others to boycott the social network and join rival Mastodon. However, most of the users returned to Twitter, and Mastodon’s fame was short-lived.
Previously, platforms like Tooter had vaguely attempted to create a “ Desi Twitter ”, but failed to gain traction. Now Koo, who has seasoned founders, funding and government support, is trying to gain traction in the Indian market.
Although Koo is currently a Twitter doppelganger, government support and local language creators could energize the platform and help it gain traction in India.
One of the main differentiators is that you can choose to display posts in only one language. This is important in the Indian market, as people living in smaller towns are more likely to engage with content in their local language. In 2019, Google made nine out of 10 new internet users in India consume content in vernacular languages.
ShareChat has also implemented this model and has over 160 million users. The social network uses a Reddit-like model where users can view content in different languages without logging in, and often it doesn’t matter who posts the content.
On the other hand, Koo’s Twitter-like framework could help people connect with local leaders and influencers.
Another important opportunity is political conversation and announcements. In its fight with Twitter, India’s IT ministry chose to post its response on Koo before sharing it on Twitter.
If national and state ministries start posting on Koo, it will make the platform an important hub for official information, forcing journalists and citizens to engage with it frequently. According to a Times Now report, the government plans to start posting its ads first on Koo and then a few hours later on Twitter.
Is Koo’s Gap His Biggest Opportunity?
Although it presented a neutral stance, last month the app joined the Aatmanirbhar Bharat Initiative, a nationalist alliance launched by Republic TV, a popular right-wing news channel.
The app already faces challenges in terms of controlling hate speech. A BuzzFeed News report noted that there are a ton of posts on the social network that express hatred towards Muslims. Meanwhile, Radhakrishna says it is difficult to moderate every post on the platform.
In a conversation with Rest of World, he pointed out that he didn’t want to take editorial control over his content like Twitter:
We do not govern. Why should we rule? It is a platform for free expression. We are a registered company in India. Anything illegal in the offline world is illegal in the online world.
This could create a difficult pipeline for the platform as it has to wait for an official order to remove something from the platform instead of taking action. Its reactive approach may not be the best strategy if the intention is to provide a secure environment in which users can interact.
Koo also has a feature that lets you edit posts – which Twitter users have been demanding for a long time. However, there is no flag to mark a post edited or show changes made to a post. This could cause people to edit their posts after the fact to escape the consequences of what they shared on Koo.
Koo’s coexistence with Twitter
India currently has over 600 million internet users, less than half of its population. U.S. companies such as Twitter and Facebook have captured the majority of the country’s local English-speaking population. However, Indian companies such as ShareChat and DailyHunt have relied on local languages to gain user base.
Last year’s Chinese app bans, which saw TikTok and PUBG stranded in India, sped up platforms and games like Mitron, Moj, and FAU-G.
Koo is currently counting on government support to gain traction. India’s new social media rules and support from various authorities mean the app can wait for government orders for moderation rather than actively building community guidelines.
In contrast, Twitter has stricter community guidelines and it’s even called censorship of free speech by various world leaders such as Germany. Angela Merkel and Boris Johnson from UK.
Although Koo is not a direct replacement for Twitter, bcome back to the home of nationalist voices, where there is no fear of being censored.