Is Koo, an Indian microblogging app, capable of defeating Twitter?
According to Mayank Bidawatka, co-founder of Koo, the company intends to surpass Twitter’s 25 million-strong user base in India this year.
By the end of 2021, it has surpassed 20 million downloads in the country.
“We are now available in 10 languages, including English. This year we’d like to cover all of India’s 22 official languages,” he told the BBC at the company’s headquarters in the southern city of Bangalore, a tech hub.
Following a spat between the Indian government and the US microblogging network last year, Koo was thrown into the spotlight as an alternative to Twitter.
The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered Twitter to remove supposedly incendiary accounts, which it did at first but then restored, citing “insufficient grounds.” The standoff raged on, with the Indian government threatening legal action against the company’s employees.
This was on top of a lingering disagreement over new digital laws, which raised concerns about free speech and privacy. WhatsApp filed a lawsuit against the government, claiming that the guidelines will force it to violate privacy laws.
A rush of cabinet ministers and lawmakers from Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) flocked to Koo overnight, angered by Twitter’s resistance and alleged refusal to comply with digital norms. Modi, who has a sizable Twitter following, has stayed put.
In early 2020, Koo, which caters mostly to non-English consumers in India, launched. When Twitter was suspended in Nigeria in 2021, it expanded to the country. By the end of 2022, it hopes to have 100 million users.
Aparmeya Radhakrishna, an angel investor, and entrepreneur whose ride-sharing company TaxiForSure was acquired by the Indian company Ola for $200 million (£147 million) in 2015, co-founded Koo alongside Bidawatka. Vokal, a knowledge-sharing portal in Indian languages, is also run by the two.
Koo has drawn cricketers and Bollywood stars over the past year, and the company expects the number of “eminent accounts,” which currently stands at 5,000, to grow by three folds by the end of the current year.
However, it has been accused of magnifying official propaganda and allowing anti-Muslim hate speech to flourish.
In a deeply politicized India, social media has become yet another battleground, with followers of the Hindu nationalist BJP accused of incessantly harassing anybody viewed as critical or hostile to Modi.
Hate speech and discriminatory or offensive content are expressly prohibited by Koo’s guidelines. Moderation is difficult, as it is on other social media platforms, like Twitter, because “koos” (its version of tweets) are generated every second.
According to Bidawatka, the problem should be tackled with technology rather than human moderators, and by integrating the user community in flagging poisonous messages.
He acknowledges that there are “a lot of BJP guys” on Koo, but denies that it is an echo chamber of anti-liberal voices. He goes on to say that the app is home to opposition leaders from 19 different parties, including state chief ministers from the main opposition Congress party.
“There will always be some early adoptors. But how you start, and what happens in the beginning should not define your entire journey,” Bidawatka said. “As entrepreneurs, there is no reason for us to create something that only a section of the population will use.”
(Adapted from BBC.com)