New Delhi: A social community platform called ‘coto’, meant exclusively for women and scheduled to be launched in June, aims to carve out a space online that is free of trolling and abuse. The Web3 platform promises to “narrow the gender divide” on social media where “men outnumber women”.
Having derived its name from the initial two letters of the words ‘coming together’, coto will be a platform where women, including transgenders, can freely express themselves as well as gain traction for their entrepreneurial ventures.
It has been founded by Aparna Acharekar, a former programming head at the video streaming platform Zee5, Tarun Katial, former chief executive officer of Zee5, and Rajneel Kumar, former business head for expansion projects and head of products at ZEE5. They are launching the platform through their company, Eve World, and stress that “safety” is the “strongest tenet of coto”.
“In order to make the internet empowering and inclusive, it is imperative to have a safe space where we can freely express ourselves. Women don’t get the chance to have intimate conversations, which leads to self-censorship,” Acharekar told ThePrint.
This carving out of a safe space online is a significant step in a country where women, across Indian cities, have regularly held protests demanding safety in public spaces. Campaigns such as ‘Why Loiter’ and ‘Take Back the Night’ have seen hundreds of women take to the streets to demand safety and accountability.
Online, sexism and misogyny, and the army of trolls that thinks nothing of threatening women, remain largely unchecked. And social media has only magnified the blatant sexism that unfolds every day in the offline world.
Women, too, are seeking safer spaces online, be it for professional guidance and networking, or to discuss personal problems.
Deepti (who did not wish to share her last name), 33, is part of leap.club, a networking platform for women in Delhi, and says such spaces give her access to women in leadership positions. “There were conversations about breaking the glass ceiling, how to build a good work-life balance and so on,” said Deepti.
The foundation for coto is Web3, or the third-generation internet, which will address concerns such as manipulation of algorithms, identity theft and breach of data. Blockchain technology will be used to ensure data privacy and fill in all the loopholes of Web2.
“The platform will enable members to freely create, curate, consume and own content. The decentralised nature of blockchain will help in overcoming issues with privacy,” says Katial.
The need for coto
The internet has revolutionised the way we communicate, and social media platforms are where people disseminate information, exchange ideas and so on.
However, according to a survey carried out by Statista, a database company, titled ‘Gender distribution of social media audiences worldwide as of January 2022, by platform‘, men outnumber women on almost all mass social platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, not just in India but the world over.
In January this year, National Commission for Women Chairperson Rekha Sharma said cases of online harassment had increased by five times since the outbreak of the pandemic.
One of the main things Acharekar felt was missing from “legacy social media platforms” is intimate conversations.
“Women tend to feel restricted as there is always a concern regarding abuse and harassment. Hence, no one feels free to talk about issues like menopause, motherhood and sexual problems. We want to open them up and have women make their own groups and talk about such issues,” she said.
While women will be allowed to post anonymously on coto, safeguards have been put in place that kick in during the registration process.
“One has to just go through a basic KYC process that will involve facial recognition. We would like to know whether you are a woman or not. Members of the transgender communities will also get the opportunity to engage equally. If a person does not want to be discovered at all, they can choose to withhold their identity while engaging with other members of the community post registration,” said Katial. “We will have all kinds of privacy controls.”
The platform also intends to monetise and help members showcase their business products via online marketplaces for women entrepreneurs on the platform. “We would also benefit from these marketplaces as we would be receiving commissions from these transactions. So, it is a win-win for all,” Katial said.
This report has been updated to reflect the name of the third co-founder of coto.
(Edited by Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri)