NEW DELHI – In early February, politicians from India’s ruling bharatiya janata party began signing up for a social network that almost no one had heard of.
“I’m in Koo now,” India’s trade minister said published on Twitter to its nearly 10 million followers. “Connect with me on this microblogging platform from India for real-time, exciting and exclusive updates.” Millions of people follow, mostly BJP supporters, and the Twitter clone became an instant hit, installed by more than 2 million people for ten days earlier this month, according to the analysis firm of Sensor Tower applications.
The moment 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 with the Hindu nationalist government of India, including those belonging to journalists and an investigative news magazine. In response, the IT Ministry of India threatened send Twitter officers to jail. In the midst of the confrontation, government officials promoted Koo as a nationalist alternative, free from American influence.
The site, which is presented as “the voice of India in Indian languages“It’s almost exactly like Twitter, except the‘ Koos ’are restricted to 400 characters, the trendy themes section is full of government propaganda and the logo is a yellow bird, not a blue one.
More worryingly, in Koo, Hindu supremacism is collapsing and hate speech against Muslims, India’s largest minority, is flowing freely, driven by some of the government’s strongest supporters.
A BJP party worker published a poll asking supporters to choose between four demeaning labels for Muslims, including “anti-nationals” and “jihadist dogs.” A person whose biography says he teaches at the Indian Institute of Technology, a world-class engineering university that Silicon Valley has longed for its graduates, shared an odious cartoon depicting Muslim men as members of a bloodthirsty crowd. Some people shared conspiracy theories about Muslims spitting on people’s food to spread disease, while others shared news stories about crimes committed by people with Muslim names in an attempt to demonize an entire religion. One person warned Muslims not to follow him and called them insults. “I hate [them]”, Said one of his messages.
Like the global Internet splinters, and conventional platforms such as Facebook and Twitter against nation states i properly repress hate speech, nationalist alternatives appear to embrace it, which experts say is a growing trend.
“This content wants to find new homes,” evelyn douek, a professor at Harvard Law School who studies global regulation of online speech, told BuzzFeed News. The hate speech, misinformation, harassment and incitement that conventional platforms have been dealing with for years are especially problematic on platforms like Koo, he said, because these sites are subject to less scrutiny. “These problems reach all platforms 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 is a global Internet that have a completely alternative type of discourse and conversations that take place in parallel on national platforms. “
Aprameya Radhakrishna, co-founder and CEO of Koo, told BuzzFeed News that her site was not intended as a hate vehicle nor was it designed to be an ideological echo camera.
“Not all content can be moderated to scale,” he said.
Radhakrishna is a Bangalore-based businessman who sold a start-up to Ola, India’s rival Uber, in 2015 for $ 200 million. Koo launched in March last year. Earlier this month, as downloads increased, the company increased $ 4.1 million of investors, including former Infosys co-founder Mohandas Pai, a vocal advocate for the Modi government.
Koo does not have a moderation team, Radhakrishna said. Instead, the platform relies on people to tag content that it deems problematic. One team only analyzes content that Radhakrishna calls “exceptions”.
“Even Facebook and Twitter continue to discover moderation,” Radhakrishna said. “We are a ten-month company. We are working on our policies. ”He added that he believed that expressing thoughts was not a problem until it provoked violence.
“We’re not going to act against something just to make us feel like it,” he said. “It will be taken in accordance with the laws of the country.”
A small section titled “Rules and Conduct” buried in the app’s terms and conditions prohibits people from posting content that “invades another’s privacy,” “hateful,” “racial,” or “ethnically unpleasant” or “despicable.” “.
Despite the comparisons in Parler, who positioned himself as a conservative alternative to Twitter and Facebook in the US, Radhakrishna insists his application is apolitical. “We would love for anyone who wants to adopt the platform to adopt it,” he said. “Politics is not the only aspect of India. The platform is made to express and express anything. “
More than a dozen government departments in India now use Koo. Earlier this month, the country’s IT ministry, the government department that threatened Twitter officials with jail, issued a statement to Koo expressing his displeasure with Twitter hours before posting the same statement on Twitter , the platform the department chose for official announcements.
Within Twitter, which ranks India among the world’s fastest-growing markets, employees are watching Koo. “It’s definitely on our radar,” an employee who requested anonymity told BuzzFeed News. “I don’t know yet if it will be a threat, but we’re seeing it.”
Radhakrishna said the company’s own origins gave it an edge. “We are an Indian company and we will frame our behavior in an Indian context,” he said. “It will be better than what international companies do because they are also guided by their start-up policies that they have established.”
When asked what he meant by an “Indian context,” Radhakrishna said he had no concrete example. “I haven’t dealt with any real scenarios,” he said.