India’s social platforms are seeing traction but they also have to tackle the big issues from the start—policy, moderation and civil discourse
By Srinath Srinivasan
Indian entrepreneurs have a strong case today to make social platforms for their fellow citizens. The growing fervour of data nationalism, the vacuum left by the banned Chinese social media channels and the ever growing need of the ordinary Indian to voice his/her opinion at national and international levels have resulted in the birth of a number of social media apps. While the Indian apps make a strong alternative to the American and Chinese ones, they also are facing a unique problem of understanding the Indian sentiments and a responsibility of working along with Indian policy makers.
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“Indian entrepreneurs are better positioned to know the sentiments of the various groups of people in India. They can create platforms that can first understand the users better before moderating them,” says Anurag Ramdasan, head of investments, 3one4 Capital. The firm has invested in Koo, which promises to project the voice of the Indians globally. “If you carefully see, only the English content on Koo is mostly political. Users in local languages mostly talk about their day-to-day interests and lifestyle. Twitter, by far, does not have this kind of discourse,” says Ramdasan.
The question however is whether Indian platforms can have reduced noise, gaslighting and raucousness on their posts unlike Twitter and Facebook? It appears, Indian entrepreneurs are trying out some ways to do it. Pepul, which promises to be the most secure and user-friendly alternative to the Instagram and Facebook story format, is testing out user verification for all and has laid out its own rules of moderation. “First, we want the user to be real, verified and be constantly in touch with the community members who also take the role of the moderators. Then, we introduce something called ‘Karma’, which keeps track of the user’s good and bad activities,” says Suresh Kumar G, founder and CEO, Pepul. “We will not allow any kind of propaganda that hurts others’ sentiments or is aimed at inciting violence.”
MYn, a content platform that aims to make proximity commerce more common, provides MYn ID, a 7-digit alpha numeric ID which identifies a user on the platform. The platform takes a photograph of the user at the time of signing up, which in actual use does not appear on the user’s public profile. “MYn ID and the photograph allow us to verify a user and close in on their account if their content gets abusive or gets reported. The ID is their only way to login to the app. In addition, the system recalibrates itself and checks the content real-time for authenticity and abuse,” says AS Rajagopal, founder and CEO, Myn.
Bharatam, which promises to be the Facebook alternative from Noida, wants to avoid all the controversies that Facebook has been through during its growth. “We built the app with the aim to have everything that American and Chinese apps came with. Our teams and systems who will moderate content and address grievances will be based in India and not outside. We will not share or sell user data to anyone for any purpose,” says Neeraj Bisht, founder and CEO, Bharatam.
While the platforms are optimistic about keeping up the founding philosophy and principles alive, the real test begins when they scale. While the government is calling the platforms to have a conversation on making regulations, the idea of self-regulation by these platforms limits the efforts.
There has been no defined self regulatory standard that has been tested and proven to reduce the chaos. The teams that keep up community standards on Facebook, Twitter, et al, sit remotely in the USA, enforcing their standards in other regions of the world. There is no clear preventive approach yet to solve identity based issues on these platforms. The systems today rely on constant user feedback on what is good and appeals to their standards. The biggest challenge and opportunity for both the Indian government and the Indian social platforms are one and the same—to stop working in silos and get deeply involved in this cycle of feedback and moderation.