Indian Government Promotes Domestic Rival to Twitter

Spectators wearing facemasks use their mobile phones as they wait for the start of the Republic Day Parade in New Delhi on January 26, 2021. (Photo by Jewel SAMAD / AFP) (Photo by JEWEL SAMAD/AFP via Getty Images)
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP via Getty Images

Indian government ministers are flocking to an Indian-made Twitter rival named Koo after the U.S.-based Twitter upset New Delhi by failing to comply with an order to ban certain accounts this week.

“On February 9, a host of prominent government officials endorsed Koo, a made-in-India alternative to Twitter. While some simply shared links to follow them on Koo, others asked their Twitter followers to join the app to get ‘exclusive’ updates about their ministries’ work,” Quartz news site reported Thursday.

Several Indian government ministries and departments have created new accounts on Koo in recent days, including the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), the Central Board of Indirect Taxes, the National Institute of Electronics and Information Technology, India Post, MyGovIndia, and Digital India.

Twitter temporarily suspended over 500 accounts last week, including some operated by Indian news websites and anti-Indian government activists, after receiving several official requests to block 1,178 accounts from MeitY in the preceding days. The ministry said the accounts were spreading misinformation and inciting violence amid New Delhi’s recent farmers’ protests. Twitter reversed its decision to comply with the order just 12 hours later, however, restoring access to the accounts. The Indian government issued Twitter a non-compliance notice in response.

“After Twitter lifted the block, New Delhi issued a more serious warning to Twitter and its executives, citing the nation’s Section 69A, which allows ‘punishment with an imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years and shall also be liable to fines,’” Tech Crunch reported.

Twitter said it decided not to comply with all of MeitY’s blocking orders “because we do not believe that the actions we have been directed to take are consistent with Indian law,” the San Francisco-based tech giant wrote in a blog post published February 10.

“[I]n 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,” Twitter added.

Tens of thousands of farmers, largely from the Sikh-dominated state of Punjab, have camped on the outskirts of India’s capital, New Delhi, since November to protest three recently passed agricultural reforms they say threaten traditional farm price protections. New Delhi has stood by the reforms, approved by the Indian Congress in September, arguing that they aim to help both farmers and consumers by modernizing India’s agricultural supply chain.

The protests took a violent turn on January 26 after thousands of farmers defied government orders to march on pre-approved routes during an Indian national holiday. A mob of farmers broke through police barricades to storm central New Delhi on vehicles including tractors, motorbikes, horses, and cranes. Some farmers managed to overtake police stationed at Delhi’s historic Red Fort, breaking through the fortress’s gate and scaling its walls. One farmer died in the chaos after his tractor overturned. Over 300 hundred police officers were injured by the farmers while trying to protect the national capital.

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