Tech Apps

In Spats With Twitter, India’s Government Begins Messaging Shift to Rival Koo

Twitter is quickly losing its sheen as a favored communications tool for many Indian government departments and ministers quick to advance local adversary Koo while the US firm comes under fire for non-compliance with India’s laws.

The most high-profile model has been India’s new IT minister Ashwini Vaishnaw. Taking office this month, he opened another Koo account and soon after announced a review of social media firms’ compliance with strict new rules — information not posted to his 258,000 Twitter followers.

“The idea is to create an alternative to Twitter,” said one government official in media relations, declining to be identified as he was not authorized to speak on the matter.

That sentiment is shared by other ministers and members from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who are incensed by what they see as a defiant Twitter, a senior person in the party’s IT department told Reuters.

PM Narendra Modi’s nationalist administration first took with the US firm in February when it declined to completely follow a request to take down accounts and posts accused of spreading misinformation about farmers’ protests that have been the biggest display of dissent faced by the government. Twitter argued some requests were not in line with Indian law.

That dispute saw some ministers promote Koo, which is not at all like Twitter also obliges content in eight Indian languages, and its downloads flooded 10-fold in two days to more than 3 million. Subscriber numbers for the 16-month old platform have since grown to 7 million.

Twitter, which has about 17.5 million users in India, has just seen friction with the government escalate, including its failure to fulfill a May 25 deadline for installing compliance and complaint officials ordered under the new social media rules. It has since filled two of the three positions.

It is also now the subject of five police investigations in various parts of India that allege the US company has abused its platform.

Twitter declined to comment on the Indian government’s use of Koo but said it works directly with various ministries and authorities, playing a critical role in disaster management amid the pandemic.

“These institutions and their members seek our strategic counsel to use the power of Twitter by way of training, mobilizing resources, and driving public engagement initiatives,” a spokesperson said.

Underlining Twitter’s reach, Modi, who has 69.8 million Twitter followers, has not yet joined Koo while numerous government ministers and offices keep on using the two platforms regardless of whether news on Koo is spread first.

India’s IT service, the executive’s office, and the government’s media wing did not respond to requests for comment. The head of the BJP’s IT department, Amit Malviya, declined to comment.

Staging a Koo

Koo’s developing traction can be seen with the trade ministry’s account which presently has 1.2 million followers on Koo compared and 1.3 million on Twitter.

State governments are getting in on the act. The disaster management arm of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, has pinned a tweet telling its 21,900 followers to join Koo – where it has just 992 followers – for “exclusive and latest updates”.

The cold shoulder that numerous authorities are currently giving Twitter contrasts sharply with the past. Modi and the BJP have uses it extensively to connect with the public, especially in front of the 2014 political election, as well as in diplomacy. And in 2018, Modi and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey were all smiles when they met in New Delhi, with the Indian premier tweeting he had made “great friends” on the platform.

Koo says while it has no particular government outreach plan, Modi’s campaign of promoting local businesses has worked in its favor.

“I think it’s a matter of a few more months and you’ll see pretty much everyone is on Koo,” co-founder Mayank Bidawatka said in an interview.

Tech-sector specialists don’t see Koo becoming that big that fast yet say Koo’s greater local language reach will stand the company in good stead as it pursues long-term growth