“Elections going digital have allowed people to express themselves in their local language”
The election campaign going digital ahead of Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh and four other states has prompted not only candidates and political parties to boost their online presence, but also voters to take more interest to their local candidates. The digital push has made it easier for candidates to reach their constituents and has given native social media platforms a chance to grow exponentially.
The CEO and co-founder of one of India’s largest indigenous social platforms, Aprameya Radhakrishna of Koo app, a local language-based social media platform, spoke exclusively to News18 as he only a few days left for the UP polls. Radhakrishna spoke about local language content and countering misinformation on social media platforms. Excerpts from the interview:
You are the CEO and co-founder of the Koo app. Anyone curious how the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections affect social media platforms, especially when it comes to an indigenous platform like yours?
I think for a long time the open internet was about expressing opinions and now people are experiencing true freedom of expression online. There are millions of Indians who do not know English and hence could not experience online expression earlier. Our platform aims to give a voice to every Indian, regardless of the language they speak.
Koo allowed people to express their opinion on different issues not only in the country, but on their life, and in the language of their choice. This level of internet freedom has never been felt before, and that’s what we enable. As right now is election season, people are voicing their thoughts, concerns and opinions about the elections and sharing their dreams about the country. And it’s all happening in local languages for the first time.
Do you see a change in data flow and traffic during the elections? What type of traffic do you receive, especially from the northern part of the country?
Hindi is our biggest community. We are the platform that has the most expression in Hindi right now. We are seeing tremendous growth in the number and posting of “Koos” in Hindi. If you look at regions like UP, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Goa – where elections are taking place – the time spent by users on the platform has increased. All this indicates that everyone gets a platform to express themselves in their local language. We are also giving political leaders a platform to speak to the Indian public in local languages for the first time.
We all know how much Covid-19 has affected our lives. But it showed us that everything will go digital, including election campaigns. Even the Electoral Commission has allowed political parties to campaign virtually. How did this affect ‘Koo’?
Communicate digitally in local languages and reach out to people – this is happening for the first time on a platform. So, for someone who wants to engage in conversations around elections, there are defined spaces on the app. We have a tab called ‘UP elections’. People can go there and get the last “Koos” around the UP elections. They can also post their “Koos” on issues that matter to them. So, all of this has been enabled on our app.
An important aspect is that we have all witnessed the flow of misinformation on social media platforms. How do you approach this? Did you outsource it to a third party or do you have an internal mechanism to control this?
Thus, we are signatories of the voluntary Code of Ethics. We will follow EC guidelines to limit any violations of the election code. Our intention is extremely high as a social media app in India, and we want to set a good example for everyone operating in India on how social media apps should work during elections.
When it comes to fake news, it’s a highly specialized topic. We always take action based on the law of the land. But we also work with other gifted specialists to decipher fake news and we want to democratize it. So if a user feels that something posted by another user isn’t reliable enough, we’re heading to a place where they can take that “Koo” and submit it to a range of fact checkers who will be listed on the website. ‘application. They can provide proof that this information is false or real.
As a platform, we want to avoid being judgmental. We want to be the biggest opinion platform in India, and eventually the world, without having our own opinion. This means that we want specialists or the right people to comment on what is wrong or not, rather than us being the judge. So we want to empower the user and the specialists to determine if something is wrong or not.
Which platforms do you consider your competitors?
We are a true social media platform where every piece of content is user generated. And we formed a social network. And the network that is created is for communication and expression in local languages. I don’t think there is anyone else doing this in India, and no one except Big Tech is doing it globally. I think there are a lot of opportunities for us to use this avenue to include the segments left out. In the future, social networks will be built around local languages. ‘Koo’ is also a way for English internet users to communicate for the first time with people who interact in local languages.
Other social media giants like Facebook and Twitter also offer content in local languages and features like translations. Do you see them as your competitors?
It is therefore important to understand the social media landscape here. Each social media platform is known for one thing: the type of networks created on their platforms. For example, Facebook is a network of friends and family. We go there to get updates from our friends and family. Instagram is a place where we can all connect with people who post lifestyle content, such as travel and food, among others. Twitter is for thoughts and opinions, but it’s an English-focused global platform. So, all the English speakers in the world are on this platform and exchanging thoughts and opinions.
“Koo” has a specific use case – i.e. connecting with people for thoughts and opinions in local languages. Nobody else does that. Therefore, I say there is no competition in what we do. Another way to look at social media platforms is whether you are an open network or a closed network. For example, on WhatsApp, we connect with people whose phone numbers we have. It is a closed network. But ‘Koo’ is an open network. If you say something, the possibility of someone seeing it is high. In the realm of social media, where every adjustment leads to a new product, our offer to the world and to India is expressed in local languages.
We facilitate interaction even for English speakers in local languages. I’m sure you haven’t created too much local language content on the internet. It’s not that you don’t want or don’t want to reach out to people. It’s just that there’s never been a platform that lets you do that. And that’s what ‘Koo’ does.
Initially, there was a perception that ‘Koo’ was working for a certain political party. Politicians from other parties were hesitant to join the platform. But eventually, they all join now. So how do you see this?
We have always been a neutral platform. As I said, we are a platform that enables expression in local languages for everyone in India. We invite everyone in India to join our platform and speak out. Yes, as you said, among the various topics covered on “Koo” – which includes Bollywood, TV, entertainment, sports, cricket, poetry, religion and spirituality – politics is one of them. All political parties have now started adopting “Koo” because we have a real proposal.
The proposal is to connect with people who speak different languages. It is important to talk to them and share their thoughts on important issues in the country. This will help the users to better understand each party and each leader and therefore establish a connection that has never been established before on the Internet. So I think what we do is special and unique. I want every person in India, and eventually the world, to come and use ‘Koo’, in order to express themselves in their local language.
Read all the latest news, breaking news and updates on coronavirus here.