Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's call for aatmanirbharta (Hindi for self-sufficiency) in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have permeated through a substantial chunk of his audience. The call for self-sufficiency even extended to smartphones and apps, and Indian developers didn't fail to show up when the country banned several Chinese apps over unspecified privacy and security issues. While some have been honest attempts, others are just copy-my-homework-but-just-change-it-up-a-little-so-that-it-isn't-obvious. Koo, an alternative to Twitter, falls in the latter category.
What is Koo?
Koo is a "micro-blogging platform" developed in India that aims to let users express their thoughts in Indian languages. If this sounds a bit familiar to Twitter, it's cause it is. Koo bears an uncanny resemblance to Twitter, and it starts right from the app logo that isn't very discreet about its inspiration. For what it's worth, the name Koo itself seems to be a derivation of the call of the Koel bird that's commonplace in India.
Use the slider to switch between Twitter and Koo.
But that's not all. The platform is identical to Twitter in pretty much every possible way. It's the very reason why I felt right at home (albeit a sloppier, shabbier one) as a Twitter user. The profile page is almost identical, all with a name, picture, a bio, and four tabs to show your Koos (Koo:Koo, Twitter:Tweet), likes, replies, and mentions. You can apply for a verified profile. You can only Koo a limited number of characters. You can attach images, videos, GIFs, polls, and links to Koos. You can Re-Koo or Re-Koo with Comment.
If you're koo-nfused, apologies. The point here is that the platform seems to be a blatant rip-off of Twitter, and its distinguishing feature of being available in more Indian languages doesn't quite hold up. Koo only supports five Indian languages at the moment — a lower number than what Twitter supports.
Then why is it gaining steam in India?
Before we discuss that, there's one bit of information that you need to know about Koo. It won the Aatmanirbhar Bharat App Innovate Challenge that the government hosted to encourage Indian developers to come up with alternatives to the banned Chinese apps. Now that that's out of the way, let's briefly get to why the app is gaining momentum in India.
Recently, the local government asked Twitter to remove the accounts of over 1,100 news media entities, journalists, activists, and politicians for spreading misinformation about the protests held by Indian farmers against new agricultural laws. While Twitter permanently suspended over 500 accounts that violated its rules, it didn't go ahead with the others, believing that some of the take-down orders were not consistent with Indian law and detailed its stance in a blog post.
I am now on Koo.
Connect with me on this Indian micro-blogging platform for real-time, exciting and exclusive updates.
Let us exchange our thoughts and ideas on Koo.
— Piyush Goyal (@PiyushGoyal) February 9, 2021
This has irked the government, politicians, and hundreds of thousands of people who have now joined Koo and are sharing updates on the platform. It shouldn't come as a surprise that #BanTwitter and similar hashtags are already trending on it.
It's difficult to predict the future course of these developments, but if the government does move to ban Twitter in the country, it's clear who is to gain from it. While Koo does seem sketchy in practice — apparently, it's even leaking the data of its users — its founders have solid credentials, and so do its investors.