In spats with Twitter, India’s government begins messaging shift to rival Koo

Koo’s growing traction can be seen with the trade ministry’s account which now has 1.2 million followers on Koo compared with 1.3 million on Twitter. (Instagram)
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Updated 28 July 2021
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In spats with Twitter, India’s government begins messaging shift to rival Koo

  • After months of tension with Twitter, Indian government and ministers are keen to promote rival Indian app Koo
  • Unlike Twitter, Koo ccommodates content in eight Indian languages and reached more than 3 million downloads in two days

NEW DELHI: Twitter Inc. is fast losing its sheen as a favored communications tool for many Indian government departments and ministers keen to promote home-grown rival Koo while the US firm comes under fire for non-compliance with India’s laws.
The most high-profile example has been India’s new IT minister Ashwini Vaishnaw. Taking office this month, he opened a new Koo account and soon after announced a review of social media firms’ compliance with strict new rules — information not posted to his 258,000 Twitter followers.
“The idea is to create an alternative to Twitter,” said one government official in media relations, declining to be identified as he was not authorized to speak on the matter.
That sentiment is shared by other ministers and members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who are irked by what they see as a defiant Twitter, a senior person in the party’s IT department told Reuters.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s nationalist administration first took umbrage with the US firm in February when it refused to fully comply with an order to take down accounts and posts accused of spreading misinformation about farmers protests that have been the biggest display of dissent faced by the government. Twitter argued some requests were not in line with Indian law.
That dispute saw some ministers promote Koo, which unlike Twitter also accommodates content in eight Indian languages, and its downloads surged 10-fold in two days to more than 3 million. Subscriber numbers for the 16-month old platform have since grown to 7 million.
Twitter, which has about 17.5 million users in India, has only seen friction with the government escalate, including over its failure to meet a May 25 deadline for installing compliance and grievance officers mandated under the new social media rules. It has since filled two of the three positions.
It is also now the subject of five police investigations in different parts of India that allege the US company has abused its platform.
Twitter declined to comment on the Indian government’s use of Koo but said it works directly with various ministries and authorities, playing a critical role in disaster management amid the pandemic.
“These institutions and their members seek our strategic counsel to use the power of Twitter by way of training, mobilizing resources, and driving public engagement initiatives,” a spokesperson said.
Underlining Twitter’s reach, Modi, who has 69.8 million Twitter followers, has not yet joined Koo while many government ministers and departments continue to use both platforms even if news on Koo is disseminated first.
India’s IT ministry, the prime minister’s office and the government’s media wing did not respond to requests for comment. The head of the BJP’s IT department, Amit Malviya, declined to comment.
STAGING A KOO
Koo’s growing traction can be seen with the trade ministry’s account which now has 1.2 million followers on Koo compared with 1.3 million on Twitter.
State governments are getting in on the act. The disaster management arm of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, has pinned a tweet telling its 21,900 followers to join Koo — where it has just 992 followers — for “exclusive and latest updates.”
The cold shoulder that many authorities are now giving Twitter contrasts sharply with the past. Modi and the BJP have used it extensively to connect with the public, particularly ahead of the 2014 election, as well as in diplomacy. And in 2018, Modi and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey were all smiles when they met in New Delhi, with the Indian premier tweeting he had made “great friends” on the platform.
Koo says while it has no specific government outreach plan, Modi’s campaign of promoting local businesses has worked in its favor.
“I think it’s a matter of a few more months and you’ll see pretty much everyone is on Koo,” co-founder Mayank Bidawatka said in an interview.
Tech-sector experts don’t see Koo becoming that big that fast but say Koo’s greater local language reach will stand the company in good stead as it pursues long-term growth.


Arab News scoops 4 Merit Winner nods in 59th Society of Publication Designers competition

Updated 20 April 2024
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Arab News scoops 4 Merit Winner nods in 59th Society of Publication Designers competition

  • Awards across print, digital, infographics and illustrations ‘testament to talent and dedication of design and editorial teams’

LONDON: Arab News, the leading English-language daily newspaper in the Middle East, has won four Merit Winner awards at this year’s Society of Publication Designers competition.

Arab News’ “The Kingdom vs. Captagon” Spotlight piece garnered recognition in the two categories — Custom Feature and Single Page.

The two remaining accolades went to the “Onions’ tears and inflation fears” in the Feature Opener category and the “Guide to Hajj” in Infographic, commended for its exceptional data visualization.

“We are extremely proud to have won four awards at this year’s prestigious SPD competition,” Omar Nashashibi, head of design at Arab News, said.

“To win awards across print, digital, infographics and illustrations is testament to the talent and dedication of the Arab News design and editorial teams in creating engaging content for our readers.”

Since 1965, the annual SPD awards have promoted and celebrated excellence in editorial design, photography and illustration across both print and digital mediums. This year, the competition’s jury received thousands of entries from around the globe.  


Man who set himself on fire outside Trump trial dies of injuries, police say

Updated 20 April 2024
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Man who set himself on fire outside Trump trial dies of injuries, police say

  • Some officers and bystanders rushed to the aid of the man
  • The man, who police said recently traveled from Florida to New York, had not breached any security checkpoints to access the park

NEW YORK: A man who doused himself in an accelerant and set himself on fire outside the courthouse where former President Donald Trump is on trial has died, police said.
The New York City Police Department told The Associated Press early Saturday that the man was declared dead by staff at an area hospital.
The man was in Collect Pond Park around 1:30 p.m. Friday when he took out pamphlets espousing conspiracy theories, tossed them around, then doused himself in an accelerant and set himself on fire, officials and witnesses said.
A large number of police officers were nearby when it happened. Some officers and bystanders rushed to the aid of the man, who was hospitalized in critical condition at the time.
The man, who police said recently traveled from Florida to New York, had not breached any security checkpoints to access the park.

The park outside the courthouse has been a gathering spot for protesters, journalists and gawkers throughout Trump’s trial, which began with jury selection Monday.
Through Friday, the streets and sidewalks in the area around the courthouse were generally wide open and crowds have been small and largely orderly.
Authorities said they were also reviewing the security protocols, including whether to restrict access to the park. The side street where Trump enters and leaves the building is off limits.
“We may have to shut this area down,” New York City Police Department Deputy Commissioner Kaz Daughtry said at a news conference outside the courthouse Friday, adding that officials would discuss the security plan soon.


Russian war correspondent for Izvestia killed in Ukraine

Updated 20 April 2024
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Russian war correspondent for Izvestia killed in Ukraine

  • Izvestia said Semyon Eremin, 42, died of wounds from a drone attack in Zaporizhzhia region
  • Eremin had reported for the Russian daily from hottest battles in Ukraine during the 25-month-old war

Semyon Eremin, a war correspondent for the Russian daily Izvestia, was killed on Friday in a drone attack in southeastern Ukraine, the daily said.

Izvestia said Eremin, 42, died of wounds suffered when a drone made a second pass over the area where he was reporting in Zaporizhzhia region.
Izvestia said Eremin had sent reports from many of the hottest battles in Ukraine’s eastern regions during the 25-month-old war, including Mariupol, besieged by Russian troops for nearly three months in 2022.
He had also reported from Maryinka and Vuhledar, towns at the center of many months of heavy fighting.


WhatsApp being used to target Palestinians through Israel’s Lavender AI system

Updated 20 April 2024
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WhatsApp being used to target Palestinians through Israel’s Lavender AI system

  • Targets’ selection based on membership to some WhatsApp groups, new report reveals
  • Accusation raises questions about app’s privacy and encryption claims

LONDON: WhatsApp is allegedly being used to target Palestinians through Israel’s contentious artificial intelligence system, Lavender, which has been linked to the deaths of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, recent reports have revealed.

Earlier this month, Israeli-Palestinian publication +972 Magazine and Hebrew-language outlet Local Call published a report by journalist Yuval Abraham, exposing the Israeli army’s use of an AI system capable of identifying targets associated with Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

This revelation, corroborated by six Israeli intelligence officers involved in the project, has sparked international outrage, as it suggested Lavender has been used by the military to target and eliminate suspected militants, often resulting in civilian casualties.

In a recent blog post, software engineer and activist Paul Biggar highlighted Lavender’s reliance on WhatsApp.

He pointed out how membership in a WhatsApp group containing a suspected militant can influence Lavender’s identification process, highlighting the pivotal role messaging platforms play in supporting AI targeting systems like Lavender.

“A little-discussed detail in the Lavender AI article is that Israel is killing people based on being in the same WhatsApp group as a suspected militant,” Bigger wrote. “There’s a lot wrong with this.”

He explained that users often find themselves in groups with strangers or acquaintances.

Biggar also suggested that WhatsApp’s parent company, Meta, may be complicit, whether knowingly or unknowingly, in these operations.

He accused Meta of potentially violating international humanitarian law and its own commitments to human rights, raising questions about the privacy and encryption claims of WhatsApp’s messaging service.

The revelation is just the latest of Meta’s perceived attempts to silence pro-Palestinian voices.

Since before the beginning of the conflict, the Menlo Park giant has faced accusations of double standards favoring Israel.

In February, the Guardian revealed that Meta was considering the expansion of its hate speech policy to the term “Zionist.”

More recently, Meta quietly introduced a new feature on Instagram that automatically limits users’ exposure to what it deems “political” content, a decision criticized by experts as a means of systematically censoring pro-Palestinian content.

Responding to requests for comment, a WhatsApp spokesperson said that the company could not verify the accuracy of the report but assured that “WhatsApp has no backdoors and does not provide bulk information to any government.”


Eastern European mercenaries suspected of attacking Iranian journalist Pouria Zeraati

Updated 19 April 2024
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Eastern European mercenaries suspected of attacking Iranian journalist Pouria Zeraati

  • UK security services believe criminal proxies with links to Tehran carried out London knife attack

LONDON: Police said on Friday that a group of Eastern European mercenaries is suspected to have carried out the knife attack on Iranian journalist Pouria Zeraati in late March.

Zeraati was stabbed repeatedly by three men in an attack outside his south London home.

The Iran International presenter lost a significant amount of blood and was hospitalized for several days. He has since returned to work, but is now living in a secure location.

Iran International and its staff have faced repeated threats, believed to be linked to the Iranian regime, which designated the broadcaster as a terrorist organization for its coverage of the 2022 protests.

Iran’s charge d’affaires, Seyed Mehdi Hosseini Matin, denied any government involvement in the attack on Zeraati.

Investigators revealed that the suspects fled the UK immediately after the incident, with reports suggesting they traveled to Heathrow Airport before boarding commercial flights to different destinations.

Police are pursuing leads in Albania as part of their investigation.

Counterterrorism units and Britain’s security services leading the inquiry believe that the attack is another instance of the Iranian regime employing criminal proxies to target its critics on foreign soil.

This method allows Tehran to maintain plausible deniability and avoids raising suspicions when suspects enter the country.

Zeraati was attacked on March 29 as he left his home home to travel to work. His weekly show serves as a source of impartial and uncensored news for many Iranians at home and abroad.

In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program this week, Zeraati said that while he is physically “much better,” mental recovery from the assault “will take time.”