With ban on physical rallies in place due to rising COVID-19 cases across the country, political parties had to largely rely on virtual campaigns till the restrictions in the run up to the assembly polls in five states were gradually eased.
Tech-driven election campaigns through the integration of data analytics and social media tools had started in India well before the pandemic, in the 2014 general elections. Today, given the country's 450 million plus social media users, digital platforms are playing a larger role than ever before in election campaigning, more so with the growth of new ventures such as home-grown micro-blogging app Koo.
Launched in March 2020, Koo has crossed 20 million downloads and has over 5,000 eminent accounts. In an interview with MoneyControl, Aprameya Radhakrishna, Koo co-founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), talks about the evolving role of social media strategies for virtual campaigns, countering misinformation, and how he sees Koo hitting 100 million downloads in the near future. Edited excerpts:
The assembly elections in five states are also being called ‘digital elections’. What new role did social media platforms, including Koo, play this time?
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Due to the pandemic-induced restrictions, virtual rallies and e-campaigning through social media platforms played a critical role in enabling leaders to connect with their constituents and build voter sentiment.
India, with 450 million plus social media users, has significant potential for virtual campaigns of any kind. Koo’s multi-language focus as an India-first platform has drawn in a new set of social media users, many of them first-time creators from remote areas, who were initially hesitant to join social media due to the English-first outlook of global tech platforms.
By leveraging Koo, parties could connect with voters located in the remotest locations, engage in public discourse, share updates and receive feedback on a real-time basis, all of which would not otherwise have been possible in the COVID-19 era of social distancing.
What role do you see Koo playing in future elections ?
We recently signed the Voluntary Code of Ethics (VCE) by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), committed to safe and fair elections. Also, to help first-time voters make an informed decision, we released the Koo Voters Guide. Just as in these elections, in the future, too, Koo could be instrumental in educating, sensitising and enhancing public trust in the electoral process, thus reiterating the importance of free and fair elections.
Social media management is fast becoming a key element of electioneering by political parties in India. Where do you see home-grown apps in the game?
We are a platform that is unbiased, open and accessible to anyone. A key section of our user base comprises eminent politicians who reach out to people in local languages. More MPs and MLAs have adopted Koo for its multi-lingual focus and connection, which English-first platforms do not offer. This is a new experience for both creators and users, one of the key reasons behind the growing acceptance of the app in the hinterlands. Koo currently has chief ministers of 17 States, Union ministers, government departments, and leaders from across the political spectrum as members.
How do you compare Koo with apps like Twitter?
Like Twitter, Koo is a micro-blogging platform. However, that is where the similarity ends. Designed with the ‘India-first’ approach in mind, the platform encourages creators to put forth their linguistic personalities by Kooing in their local language on a variety of topics.
This multi-language proposition of Koo has attracted users from across India, including tier-II and tier-III towns. We aim to roll out all the 22 official languages of India and become the largest platform for self-expression in local languages.
What measures are you taking to control or check misinformation or fake news during elections?
Koo complies with the requirements of the intermediary guidelines of the Government of India and we are at the forefront when it comes to building transparency on the open internet. Our content moderation teams, Nodal Officer and Grievance Officer are all based in India. This helps in ensuring a quick turnaround and a same day response -- within 24 hours -- for concerns that may be raised. Moreover, Koo’s Community Guidelines, by listing out what is permissible or prohibited, help users create more wholesome content.
As an intermediary, Koo connects users and does not interfere with content in any manner, unless required by the law. We constantly monitor the platform for bots or spam accounts, which typically proliferate misinformation. Such accounts are taken down on identification.
What are the challenges you have been facing in making Koo popular in India?
India is predicted to have 900 million internet users by 2025. English-speakers constitute less than 10 percent of our population. A major chunk of internet users in India were thus far not acquainted with the concept of micro-blogging due to existing platforms having an English focus. Koo is a pivot in that sense, a ‘Made in India’ app for first-time social media users and people who prefer to interact in their mother tongues.
The adoption rate for Koo has been phenomenal. Since we launched in March 2020, Koo has crossed 20 million downloads, a remarkable feat for a home-grown platform. We have over 5,000 eminent accounts across categories. Backed by robust technologies and unique features, the platform will continue to scale, thrive and will hit 100 million downloads in the future.
Any new features that Koo plans to launch?Our highly-skilled tech team works diligently to introduce product enhancements. Features like Talk-to-Type enable users to express themselves without having to type, by merely saying aloud all that they want to. This feature is especially beneficial for those who can’t or aren't keen to type in a particular language.