Koo is being touted as the homegrown, 'aatmanirbhar' alternative to Twitter. But why is it gaining popularity now?
In the wake of the spat between the Indian government and Twitter, there's an unexpected third party that has gained traction in huge numbers. Ironically, many Indian users tweeted with the hashtags #BanTwitter and #BoycottTwitter. This was the time Koo saw an increase in download rates as it was touted as a homegrown alternative to Twitter.
The reason why people wanted to boycott Twitter in the first place is because there has been a back and forth between the micro-blogging site and the government. The government had asked the social media platform to ban accounts that were tweeting about the farmers protests in India. Twitter argued that doing so would interfere with the freedom of speech.
There has been international attention on the protests, thanks to some popular members of Twitter. Pop singer Rihanna tweeted a CNN article about the protests and asked more people to have a conversation around it. Shortly after, climate activist Greta Thunberg and actress Mia Khalifa tweeted their support for the cause too.
Some Indian Twitter members claimed that the celebrities were paid to do so, but there is no evidence of the same. The farmers are protesting against the Farm Bill, which was passed in Parliament in September 2020. Under the previous laws, the farmers were assured of minimum support price (MSP). But under the new Bill, the farmers can sell their goods to anyone for any price.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi claims that the Bill gives the farmers the freedom to sell directly to buyers without any middleman. But the farmers are against the Bill as they argue that it will allow the big companies to drive down the prices. According to a CNN report, the farmers could sell crops at higher prices if the demand is there. Conversely, they could struggle to meet the minimum price in years when there is too much supply.
On its blog, dated February 10, 2021, Twitter mentions that over the course of the last 10 days, it has been served with several separate blocking orders by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act.
“Out of these, two were emergency blocking orders that we temporarily complied with, but subsequently restored access to the content in a manner that we believe was consistent with Indian law,” read the post. The accounts belonged to Kissan Ekta Morcha and 'The Caravan' magazine. Both accounts had (their Twitter) access restored, shortly after being withheld.
“We will continue to advocate for the right of free expression on behalf of the people we serve. We are exploring options under Indian law — both for Twitter and for the accounts that have been impacted. We remain committed to safeguarding the health of the conversation occurring on Twitter, and strongly believe that the Tweets should flow,” mentioned the article.
However, some members of the Indian Twitter diaspora were unhappy with this move and called for a mass boycott of the platform. That’s where Koo comes in, as a homegrown alternative to the international micro-blogging platform founded by Jack Dorsey.
Koo was founded in August 2020 by two entrepreneurs, Aprameya Radhakrishna and Mayank Bidawatka. Radhakrishna previously founded online cab booking service TaxiForSure, which was subsequently sold to Ola Cabs. Koo was named Google PlayStore’s Best Daily Essential App for 2020 and saw an increased interest after being mentioned by Modi in his 'Mann Ki Baat' address.
However, even as Koo is being pushed as an ‘aatmanirbhar’ social platform, it has its own set of downsides. Users were quick to point out that even though Koo claimed to be a homegrown app, it had a Chinese investor.
Radhakrishna took to Twitter to assure users that the app’s Chinese investor was exiting. He clarified that the investor had invested in Vokal (a vernacular knowledge-sharing app that bridges the digital knowledge gap among non-English Internet users by enabling peer-to-peer knowledge sharing using voice).
So far, Koo has verified handles of MeitY, MyGov, Digital India, India Post, National Informatics Centre (NIC), National Institute of Electronics and Information Technology (NIELIT), Common Services Center, UMANG app, Digi Locker, National Internet Exchange of India (NIXI) and Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC), to name a few.
Towards the end of January 2021, Koo announced a tie up with Republic TV to further its reach and encourage Indian audiences to express their thoughts and opinions on everyday trending news. As a part of the partnership, Republic Bharat will use the Koo platform to trend daily hashtags and encourage their followers on Koo to express their thoughts and opinions on these topics. The best 'koos' will get featured on Republic TV.
The app also additionally won the Aatmanirbhar App Innovation Challenge held by the government in August 2020. It claims to have around three million downloads so far.