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Twitter’s India Clash Buoys Local Rival Koo to 10 Million Users

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(Bloomberg) -- Koo, India’s alternative to Twitter Inc., has surged past 10 million users to narrow the gap with the U.S. microblogging site after its repeated clashes with the local government over the past few months.

The 16-month-old app, which allows users to send tweet-like posts in English and seven Indian languages such as Hindi and Kannada, has seen about 85% of its users join since February, when Twitter’s disputes with the Modi administration escalated. Government ministers, opposition politicians, cricket stars and Bollywood celebrities have since begun posting in Indian languages on Koo. Its San Francisco rival, which had 17.5 million monthly users earlier this year in India, complied with the new government rules this month after appointing new India-based executives, including one to handle compliance. “We came into the limelight because of Twitter’s tension with the government, but users soon realized they can express in their mother tongue only on Koo,” said Aprameya Radhakrishna, co-founder and chief executive officer of the Bangalore-headquartered app whose formal names is Bombinate Technologies Pvt. “Our app connects English-speaking India to non-English speaking India in a country with 700 million internet users and that’s powerful.”

The American social media network has repeatedly clashed with India’s government over the content on its platform. In one example, Twitter at first resisted removing hundreds of posts critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi government’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis, while labeling posts by ruling party officials as misleading. Police then visited its offices. An India court ruled the company was in “total non-compliance” with the country’s new information technology rules.

Earlier this month, Twitter buckled and told the court that it will fully comply with the rules. That included naming an India-based point person for handling compliance and grievance issues.

Tussles between authorities and another social media giant, Facebook Inc.’s WhatsApp, over India’s new internet rules continue in the court.

Koo, which has benefited from the controversies and from first-time internet users who post in local languages, is targeting 100 million users in a year, Radhakrishna said. The startup plans to expand in Southeast Asia, Africa, South America and Eastern Europe, into countries where English is not the dominant language.

“An Indian social media startup is taking on a global giant and has a very good chance of winning,” he said.

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