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View from India: Twitter row will help home-grown brands to gain ground

Image credit: Siraj Ahmad | Dreamstime

Twitter was in the news last week for its alleged spread of misinformation about farmers’ reaction to new farm laws. Whatsapp, the Facebook-owned messaging app, has been in the spotlight over its new privacy policy. Both have caught the attention of the Government of India.

To put things in perspective, the farmer protests began in 2020 when farmer unions rejected the three farm bills passed by the Parliament in September 2020. These are The Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020; The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020 and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.

In the long run, the government hopes that the bills will help double the income of farmers. But the farmers think differently. They believe that large corporations will benefit from the changes at the cost of smaller producers. To that effect, many farmer leaders have tried to persuade the government through several meetings. Farmers have demanded a roll-back of these laws. They’ve also asked for a guarantee on the Minimum Support Price (MSP) system to be retained. As most farmers are debt-ridden, they want an assured price mechanism. This will help win farmer confidence.

The farmer-government debate has been going on for some time, with Punjab and Haryana as centres of protests. Farmers have expressed their anger by taking to the streets and have conducted rallies to make a point. Protestors against the agricultural reforms ran riot at the ramparts of the Red Fort where the Republic Day celebrations were going on last month. That’s one side of the story.

Then, riots broke out at Capitol Hill in Washington. Though it didn’t impact India as such, it created ripples here. The fact that social media companies were quick to react to the Capitol Hill incidents but ignored the untoward incident that happened on Republic Day made the difference. As reported in the media, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Union Minister for Electronics and Information Technology, has expressed that social media companies seemed to be differential in their treatment.

Notwithstanding that, Twitter has carried misleading information about the farmers. Consequently the social media platform got into a tussle with the national government. Twitter executives from the US conducted a virtual meeting with senior officials from the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY). As per the communication, Twitter has now taken out more than 97 per cent of the disputed farmer-related handles. On its part, the social media giant has committed to restructure its India team.

Meanwhile, YouTube, the Google-owned video-streaming platform, has pulled down music videos on the farmer protests.

As the Twitter issue began to unfold over the last few days, several ministers, officials and government departments have moved out of the micro-blogging site to set up an account in Koo, a Made in India micro-blogging site. That’s understandable, as Koo ranked among the winners of the 2020 AatmaNirbhar Bharat App Innovation Challenge. Posting views and videos in vernaculars and allowing people to comment on the posts are among Koo’s offerings.

In January, it was the turn of Whatsapp, the Facebook-owned messaging app, when it rolled out its new privacy policy. Traders body Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) has claimed that the new policy allows Whatsapp to acquire and use personal data and payment transactions of individuals using it. While MeitY has asked Whatsapp to withdraw the changes, Whatsapp has responded stating that it will protect personal messages of users and that the information will not be shared with Facebook.

Quite like Koo, here too something else is in the offing. Sandes, which means message in Hindi, is in its testing phase as an alternative to Whatsapp. It will be available on both iOS and Android platforms when it is launched officially. The government, however, has not made any official announcement about Sandes.

Homegrown brands like Koo and Sandes are expected to gain ground in these circumstances.

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