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As Koo eyes South East Asia expansion, here’s what makes the social media platform stand out

Amid recent criticism of social media giants like Facebook, Koo’s stated focus on transparency could give it an edge over others.

Homegrown micro-blogging platform Koo’s user base has touched 15 million with 5 million users added over the last quarter, CEO and Co-founder Aprameya Radhakrishna said on October 24. The platform is eyeing an expansion into South East Asia in the second half of 2022 with Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines as potential options, Radhakrishna added.

Koo rose to popularity in the last couple of months when Twitter was engaged in multiple battles with the Indian government and many politicians and government departments endorsed Koo over the US-based platform. The platform’s expansion into Nigeria just as the Nigerian government banned Twitter in the country also added to Koo’s growth. But apart from these two, here are some aspects that make Koo stand out in an ecosystem that is dominated by global giants.

Developing around local languages, cultures, and laws

Less than 1-2% of the country fluent in English: “So our premise for existence in a world of so many global tech giants is the fact that we are building an India first approach to expression. Less than 1-2% of the country is very fluent with English that they can actually speak and go and express themselves on an international microblogging platform or any other social media. […] And they’re not using existing platforms because they feel that the people on those platforms or the topics that are being discussed, or even if you look at hashtags that are trending, are all very alien to them.  […] They’re looking for local people to discuss their problems and making it available and accessible in local language and building technology to make the expression in local language easier is what we are trying to do” Radhakrishna explained.

Promoting local culture: “When you talk in the local language, you promote local culture as well. So while there is a global approach [in being] a global citizen, there will be a bottom-up approach of my culture, my individuality also,” Radhakrishna added.

Accounting for local laws: While platforms like Facebook and Twitter have taken a centralised approach of expanding to more countries but keeping much of the decision-making power concentrated in the US, Koo is “taking a very decentralized approach,” Radhakrishna said. “We are trying to understand the local law of the land and building social media around it,” he added. “We just about entered Nigeria and we’re trying to make sure that Nigeria and the government of Nigeria is comfortable with Koo’s entry,” Radhakrishna said as an example of how the platform approaches new markets.

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Helping both the topmost people as well as the grassroots: “Koo is helping the topmost people of India to express in the local language so that their thoughts can percolate to the grassroots. The grassroots now can learn, accelerate their personal development by knowing about how to live better, how to be better, and also express themselves in the local language,” Radhakrishna said.

Many countries like India with the same demographics: “I think there are several countries across the world which have a similar demographic where the topmost 5% will be English speaking and connected globally. But 90- 95% of the rest of the country will actually be very locally focused. […] I think Koo using this unique value proposition of expression in language and connecting every country deeper in terms of daily expression can go beyond India. You can go to Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, countries in Africa, like Nigeria and everywhere there is a need for local language and using local language,” Radhakrishna said.

Koo’s focus on transparency

“Running a successful social media company in any part of the world is basically a three-legged table. It’s like a balance between users, the government, and the platform itself. And as soon as one of them gets tilted, the table becomes unstable,” Radhakrishna remarked in a recent discussion held by Observer Research Foundation (ORF). “It has to be a constant dialogue between all three parties, with the user as the most prominent person to take care of, ” Radhakrishna added. “And the way to make sure that happens is transparency. There is no other way.” (emphasis ours)

What makes users doubt a platform is when there is lack of transparency. That is what we’re trying to build and make sure that users always know what is happening either from the government or the platform itself and take conscious call on what they are using. – Radhakrishna

“So if the government is asking for too much surveillance, it has to be declared by the social media platform as to what has been shared so that the user knows what the particular government of that country is trying to do. At the same time, if there’s too much influence on a particular country with centralized global laws by a global giant, that is also essential to be made transparent by the platforms so that users can again judge whether this is good or bad,” Radhakrishna explained.

MediaNama’s take: One of the biggest criticism against Facebook, especially in light of the recent revelations made as part of the Facebook Papers investigation is the lack of transparency. The investigation has shown how researchers working for Facebook had found the negative impact of the platform on things like teen mental health, hate speech, fake news, etc, but Facebook did not share any of these findings with the public or even with US lawmakers when questioned in sworn testimonies. Unlike platforms like Twitter and Facebook, Koo has for the most part stayed away from controversies. Sure, the platform is still small and young compared to global giants, but if it lives up to its CEO’s words and maintains transparency in its actions, it will give the platform a favorable stand against global giants, especially in the eyes of the government.

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