Twitter has been in an escalating conflict with the Indian government over the last week after the government demanded Twitter to suspend almost 1,200 accounts from journalists, activists and politicians that post critical content of the Modi administration over the farmer protests. This has led to multiple governments and union ministers flocking to the desi version of Twitter, Koo.
Twitter initially refused to ban over 250 accounts and posts which were allegedly tweeting under a hashtag accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi of “genocide” over the ongoing farmer protests. They then complied with the demand but reinstated the account six hours later after public outcry. However, the Indian government sent a notice to Twitter implying that Twitter employees could be breaking the law if they refuse to obey the demands.
Today, Twitter said it will only partially comply with the government and has suspended more than 500 accounts. According to a copy of the government order reviewed by Reuters, the Indian government had also asked Twitter to restrict access to news accounts stating that the “freedom of the press does not include freedom to spread misinformation.”
However, Twitter said in a blog that they will not comply with this demand, as well as emphasising their stance on freedom of speech: “We do not believe that the actions we have been directed to take are consistent with Indian law, and, in keeping with our principles of defending protected speech and freedom of expression, we have not taken any action on accounts that consist of news media entities, journalists, activists and politicians.”
India’s technology ministry shared from its official Twitter account that they will be meeting with Twitter and the government is to share its stance soon. In the meantime, Indian politicians have urged followers to switch to local app Koo, a rival microblogging site. #kooapp was the top trend on Twitter in India today with nearly 21,000 posts, followed by #BanTwitter.
So, what is Koo?
It is a local microblogging site, which is available in four Indian languages, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Kannada. The app launched in March 2020 founded by Aprameya Radhakrishna and Mayank Bidawatka, who also built other start-ups such as TaxiForSure and redBus. The app won the Prime Minister’s Aatma Nirbhar Bharat App Innovation Challenge in August 2020 and has been praised by PM Modi himself.
The app itself allows user to write posts in text, audio or video format in 400 characters or less and videos of up to a minute long. The app can be downloaded both on Google Pay and Apple App stores. In terms of individuals and organisations using the app, IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and Trade Minister Piyush Goyal can be found there, alongside organisations Digital India and India Post. In the last two days, downloads have increased to over 3 million after the government endorsements, with co-founder Bidawatka telling Reuters: “The last 48 hours have seen the largest numbers of sign-ups. I’ve slept for two hours in the last few days.”
The rapid growth in Koo’s users over the last few days after Indian politicians promoted the local app over Twitter after the US-company refused to comply with governments demands, poses serious worries over the future of freedom of expression in the country. The most concerning of the demands made by the government are the attempts to silence media outlets, journalists and activists reporting content critical of the Indian government. By urging Indians to move to an app where the government has more control over becomes concerning the government’s desire to control the narrative over the farmer protests.
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