Why India Needs Its Own Twitters, Facebooks, Instagrams

This Social Media Day, we assess the significance of social media in our lives, how these platforms – who have often been accused of disseminating misinformation or fake news and using data to infringe on users’ privacy – are handling such accusations, and why multilingual platforms can be the next step forward for social media users
Aparmeya Radhakrishna, CEO, Koo
Aparmeya Radhakrishna, CEO, Koo

The word unsocial – introverts who don’t wish to mingle with fellow humans – has mostly lost its significance since the onset of ‘social media’. After all, socialising virtually isn’t quite like interacting in person – something that introverts anyway find boggling -- and has its own charm and benefits. The world got the taste of this ‘new’ way of socialising when in 1997 with the launch of Six Degrees was launched. While the platform refused to create much buzz, it did lead to more successful entrants in the market such as Orkut and Facebook (now Meta).

Today, of course, such is the influence and presence of social media in our lives that we have a day – June 30 -- to celebrate that. It’s difficult to imagine a day without checking your WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. In fact, we now also have several home-grown social media platforms who are giving the global leaders a stiff competition.

Koo, is one such social networking and microblogging site that lets people converse in several languages. In a recent conversation with Outlook Business, Aparmeya Radhakrishna, CEO, Koo talked about social media in general and its relevance for a diverse country like India. Edited Excerpts:

1. What significance does ‘social media day’ holds for you?

Social media has redefined communication in today’s digital world. It has enabled people from all walks of life, different cultures, and linguistic backgrounds to come together, interact and have conversations on multiple topics. Likewise, it has also enabled eminent personalities to engage with their followers, build a true connection, and gain feedback -- all in real-time.

As an innovation in the world of multi-lingual social media, Koo has been empowering every voice to express their thoughts

and opinions in their native language, and thereby experience digital freedom of expression, often for the very first time in their lives. People are not dependent on publishers for news or knowledge sharing – it’s now happening peer-to-peer, either through friends, family or social circle. Social media truly puts the power back in the hands of the users and is the most powerful tool for a democratic world.

2. As a young founder of a social media app, what is your learning about social media across the Indian landscape?

India is a country with thousands of languages and dialects. No other country has the kind of language diversity that we have here. A multi-lingual country like India needs a multi-lingual social media experience. 90% of the population in India does not speak English. Non-English speakers seek experiences where they can freely express in their native language, find their own linguistic communities and hold conversations with like-minded people on a topic of their choice – something that they find in Koo.

Like India, much of the world - almost 80% - comprises non-English speakers. Thus, a platform which drives digital inclusion by enabling every voice to come on to social media and freely

express in their mother tongue is what will transform the global social media landscape.

3. Between privacy and security, how do you balance the existence of social media users on your platform?

As a transparent platform, Koo stands committed to ensure the privacy and safety of all users and provide them with a secure online environment to exchange thoughts and opinions.

Global platforms keep getting hacked but that has never happened with Koo. We have employed every best practice required to ensure this level of security.

You can refer to our detailed privacy policy on the website which adheres to prevailing laws and lists out everything related to user rights, information shared at the time of registration, disclosure of information, etc.

4. Globally, social media platforms have been accused of exploiting the privacy of users to make money. Do you think it’s a valid criticism?

Most media houses either monetise through subscription or advertising. Since media plays the role of a public good, in that it helps the spread of information, it’s important to be as inclusive as possible. And the only way to do that is through advertising rather than subscription. Of course, a lot of the users may find these ads intrusive or annoying. However, it’s the only inclusive way to deliver such a public good sustainably.

As far as privacy is concerned, users should be given the choice to opt out of sharing certain data or being shown ads on the platform through a premium version that may have a paywall attached to it. It’s the lack of transparency that can lead to an erosion of trust. This is something we will ensure when we monetise our platform.

5. Social Media has democratised information for sure, but it has also led to the menace of fake news, which is leading to riots across social platforms across the world. Do you think it can be controlled ever?

Controlling fake news on the internet is like trying to control rumours in the offline world. Having said that, it’s a problem that needs to be solved and many efforts are being made globally to address it.

Broadly, the interventions are around using machine learning methods, community reporting processes, legal take down requests and working with professional third-party services that do this for a fee.

At Koo, we continue to comply with the social media intermediary guidelines in India. The platform’s Community Guidelines empower creators to build more wholesome and engaging content, while detailing out what constitutes responsible online behavior. The guidelines carry specific references to fake news and misinformation, and sensitize users on the importance of verifying information before posting, while refraining from calling out information as ‘fake’, without adequate proof.

We have a dedicated content moderation team comprising, Chief Compliance Officer, Resident Grievance Officer and Nodal Contact Officer -- as required by the IT Guidelines. It is our endeavour to ensure fast redressal of complaints raised. We have the ability to act almost in real-time if there is reported content in violation of our guidelines.

Additionally, we have also enabled users with access to prominent third-party fact-checkers for the purpose of authenticating information. Being a social media intermediary, Koo itself does not assess the accuracy or interfere with content, unless required by the law; thus by enabling access to fact-checkers, reiterates its commitment to building safety and transparency online.

6. Lately, India has been witnessing linguistic debates. Your app offers services across different languages. How do you think Koo balances out this long-standing linguistic debate?

It is a well-known fact that more than 90 percent of Indians communicate and express themselves in their mother tongue. Indians are thus likely to feel alienated on English-first

platforms. Koo drives multi-lingual expression on social media, enabling people, who would otherwise express themselves in the offline world, to come online and express freely on the platform. 95% of users on Koo are first-time social media users who now express, interact with their communities, and also interact with users from diverse linguistic backgrounds by leveraging a breakthrough feature like Multi-lingual Koo (MLK) -- which enables real-time translation of a message across the slew of languages on the platform. Other key features such as talk-to-type further democratise expression on social media by enabling users to express by merely speaking aloud and not having to type.

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