Users of Uzbekistan’s tightly controlled Internet are accustomed to hearing officials tell them that Western culture is harmful and its influence must be contained.
So they might wonder why their country keeps producing knock-off social networking websites, clones of modern Western culture. The latest is Bamboo, rolled out this week as an Uzbek answer to Twitter using the motto "One Country, One Network!"
Bamboo.uz was developed exclusively for Uzbeks, its developers said on the website (though the interface is available in 14 languages). The main difference from Twitter is that users can be more verbose: Bamboo messages can be up to 700 characters long, five times longer than messages on Twitter. Otherwise, the newsfeed and interface look almost identical to Twitter. Popular topics trend with hashtags, just like the ones Twitter uses.
Programmers in Uzbekistan, which Reporters Without Borders annually ranks an "Enemy of the Internet,” have previously launched local versions of Facebook, apparently with the government’s encouragement. State television has called social media a tool foreign powers use to foment revolution in former-Soviet states, but said local versions like Muloqot.uz and Sinfdosh.uz, "improve the moral and physical health of youth and form high morals."
Twitter was thrust into the spotlight last fall, when President Islam Karimov’s controversial daughter, Gulnara Karimova, passionately used it to trash talk the powerful security services, her sister and mother, and communicate with her army of fans. During the conflict, authorities stripped Karimova of her usual channels of communications – her television and radio stations – leaving her little choice but Twitter.
The Twitter war has since subsided but officials in the authoritarian country must have realized Twitter’s influence when Karimova was airing the first family’s dirty laundry on Twitter.
It’s too early to say if Uzbekistan, which routinely blocks websites, has the knives out for Twitter. But it seems unlikely a homegrown social network could launch without giving the security services a backdoor key.