Over the last week, Indians on Twitter found a new obsession: Tooter. Unlike the many mythical concepts and conspiracy theories floating around freely on the social media giant, this one is a real thing. Tooter is a new Indian social media platform—pretty much like Twitter—one can join, post things, follow people, and get followed. A post on Tooter is called a Toot. Even the site insignia is a blue sea conch, which looks almost like the blue bird of Twitter. Almost.
What sets Tooter apart—or at least that’s what the founders claim—is that it’s completely “swadeshi”—Hindi for native, or from one’s own country. The word was popularised during an Indian Independence movement against the British colonists in the 1900s, wherein Indians boycotted foreign goods and pushed for local products. Tooter Pvt Ltd is headquartered in the southern Indian state of Telangana.
Tooter harps back to that sentiment at a time like this wherein Indians live—and so they claim—in the “digital colony of the American Twitter India Company, no different than what we were under the British East India Company”. “Tooter is our Swadeshi Andolan 2.0. Join us in this Andolan. Join us!” says an earnest ‘About Tooter’ section. “Andolan” is Hindi for movement.
The social media platform launched in July 2020, but it’s unclear why it is suddenly gaining popularity among Indians.
Tooter happens to be on Twitter with 15 followers. In August, Tooter tweeted about Twitter suspending its account repeatedly.
The sudden popularity of the microblogging site triggered jokes and memes, mostly for being a poor copy of Twitter.
VICE World News joined the platform for a day to look at what the fuss is about.
Our new account showed that it already follows three users, seemingly by default. One of them is a verified account called @rvaidya2000 (14.5k followers) with no specific bio except “Teacher who is interested in learning”.
The second one is @nanda, the CEO and founder of Tooter Pvt Ltd. Nanda is also on Twitter (with 40 followers), wherein he is asking Twitter users with over 5,000 followers to make money by promoting Tooter. VICE World News reached out to Nanda on Tooter for an interview, which the entrepreneur declined.
“I am flattered Ma’am. But really no time for interview now [sic],” he wrote back. “So much work to do. We are barely keeping up with the pace. I will reach out to you when we get our things in order.”
The third follower is a handle called @news, which only posts articles by a Hindu right-wing news platform called Swarajya.
Within 26 seconds, the new account by this writer got two new followers—both men. To get a verified account, one needs to have 500 followers and buy Tooter Pro membership (INR 1,000, or $13.54).
For a platform this young and completely out of the blue, Tooter already has well-known personalities and politicians, especially those associated with the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. This includes Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and popular Indian guru Sadhguru, who is known to share Hindu nationalism ideologies in line with the government.
Some tech experts have been comparing Tooter with American microblogging site Parler, which is known for having a massive user base of Donald Trump supporters, conservatives and right-wing extremists. Parler shot into popularity especially in the final days of 2020 elections, and claims to be a space for “free speech”. “If you want Holocaust denial, hey, Parler is going to be great for you,” American billionaire Bill Gates said early this month.
There are concerns that Tooter is a similar ecosystem in the making. “There seems to be a concerted push on right-wing groups on encrypted messaging platforms to boost PM Modi’s following on Tooter,” wrote Indian journalist Venkat Ananth on a Twitter thread that analysed the site.
Pratik Sinha, who runs an Indian fact-checking and news platform called AltNews.in, noted that Tooter has adopted the codebase of Gab, a four-year-old social network that is a haven for white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other extremists. Gab was banned by Google for failing to moderate hateful content.
Tooter is also the latest in the current drive in India to get “atma nirbhar”, or self-reliant, which was a mantra promoted by PM Modi during his speech on India’s Independence Day this year.
Tooter might just be another brick in the Indianised social media wall, but the digital ecosystem in India could spawn its growth faster than one thinks. Chingari, the Indian alternative to Chinese giant TikTok, got over 10 million followers in just 22 days a few months ago when TikTok was banned in India. It’s not too late for concerns, or even memes.
Follow Pallavi Pundir on Twitter.