NEW DELHI – In early February, politicians from the Indian party Bharatiya Janata began signing up for a social network that almost no one had heard of.
“Now I am in Koo,” the Indian trade minister said published on Twitter to his nearly 10 million followers. “Connect with me on this Indian microblogging platform for real-time, exciting and exclusive updates.” Millions of people, most of them supporters of BJP, have followed, and the Twitter clone has become an instant success, installed by more than 2 million people more than 10 days earlier this month, according to the analysis firm Sensor Tower app.
The weather was not accidental. For days, the Indian government had been locked in a fierce tug-of-war with Twitter, challenging a legal order to block critical accounts of the Indian nationalist government, including those belonging to journalists and an investigative journal. In response, India’s IT ministry threatened to send Twitter officials to jail. In the midst of the clash, government officials promoted Koo as a nationalist alternative, free from American influence.
The site, which is billed as “the voice of India in Indian languages“It’s almost exactly like Twitter, except that‘ Koos ’is restricted to 400 characters, the trendy themes section is full of government propaganda, and the logo is a yellow bird, not blue.
More disturbingly, on Koo, Hindu supremacism runs rampant, and the hate speech against Muslims, India’s largest minority, flows freely, led by some of the government’s strongest supporters.
A BJP party official published a poll asking followers to choose between four denigrating labels for Muslims, including “anti-nationals” and “jihadi dogs”. A person whose biography says he teaches at the Indian Institute of Technology, a high engineering university whose graduates are coveted by Silicon Valley, has shared a hateful comic strip depicting Muslim men as members of a bloodthirsty crowd. Some people have shared conspiracy theories about Muslims spitting in people’s food to spread the disease, while others have shared news stories about crimes committed by people with Muslim names in attempts to demonize an entire religion. One person warned Muslims not to follow him and called them slurs. “I hate [them], ”Said one of his posts.
Like the global internet splinters, And major platforms such as Facebook and Twitter place against nation states and fitfully resuming hate speech, nationalist alternatives were born to embrace it, something experts say is a growing trend.
“This content wants to find new homes,” evelyn douek, a Harvard Law School professor studying global online language regulation, told BuzzFeed News. The hate speech, misinformation, annoyance and incitement that mainstream platforms have been dealing with for years and years are particularly problematic on platforms like Koo, he said, because these sites are subject to less scrutiny. “These problems come at every platform in the end,” Douek said, “but with the proliferation of these alternatives, there is likely to be much less attention and pressure on them. It also creates the possibility that there will be a global internet that it has a kind of completely alternative discourse, and conversations that take place on national platforms in parallel. ”
Aprameya Radhakrishna, co-founder and CEO of Koo, told BuzzFeed News that her site is not meant to be a vehicle for hatred or designed to be an ideological echo camera.
“You can’t moderate every piece of content to scale,” he said.
Radhakrishna is a Bangalore-based entrepreneur who sold a startup to Ola, Uber’s rival in India, in 2015 for $ 200 million. It launched Koo in March last year. Earlier this month, as downloads grew, the company revived $ 4.1 million from investors, including former Infosys co-founder Mohandas Pai, a vocal supporter of the Modi government.
Koo does not have a moderation team, Radhakrishna said. Instead, the platform relies on people to signal content that they think is problematic. One team looks only at pieces of content that Radhakrishna calls “exceptions”.
“Even Facebook and Twitter have always understood moderation,” Radhakrishna said. “We are a 10-month-old company. We work on our policies. ”He added that he believed that expressing thoughts was not a problem until it led to violence.
“We don’t take action against anything just because we feel that way,” he said. “It will be taken based on the laws of the land.”
A small section titled “Rules and Conduct” buried in the terms and conditions of the application prohibits people from submitting content that “invades the privacy of others,” “hateful,” “racial,” or “ethnically criticizable.” or “contemptuous.”
Despite u comparisons to Parler, who positioned himself as a conservative alternative to Twitter and Facebook in the United States, Radhakrishna insists his app is apolitical. “We would love for all those who want to adopt the platform to adopt it,” he said. “Politics is not the only aspect of India. The platform is made for the expression and expression of something. ”
More than a dozen departments of the Indian government now use Koo. Earlier this month, the country’s IT ministry, the government department that threatened Twitter officials with imprisonment, issued a statement on Koo expressing its displeasure over the hours of Twitter before posting the same statement on Twitter, the department’s selection platform for official announcements.
On Twitter, which counts India among its fastest growing world markets, employees are keeping a close eye on Koo. “It’s definitely on our radar,” an employee who asked for anonymity told BuzzFeed News. “I don’t even know if it’s going to be a threat, but we’re watching.”
Radhakrishna said the origin of society has given him an advantage. “We are an Indian society and we will frame our behavior around an Indian context,” he said. “It will be better than what international companies do because they are also guided by their home policies that they have established.”
When asked what he meant by an “Indian context,” Radhakrishna said he had no concrete examples. “I didn’t deal with a real scenario,” he said.