New Delhi: The Arnab Goswami-led news channel Republic TV tops the list of the most-mentioned users on Koo, an indigenous social media app that has been pegged as a rival to the US-based microblogging portal Twitter, according to a study conducted by Indian researchers.
Titled ‘Koo: The New King? Characterising India’s emerging social network’, the study was conducted by researchers at the Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology in Delhi, and the International Institute of Information Technology in Hyderabad. It was published on 31 March on arXiv, a pre-print portal where non-peer-reviewed research is shared within the academic community.
The Republic network has an editorial partnership with the Koo app, which reportedly involves its Hindi channel Republic Bharat using the platform to trend daily hashtags and encourage followers to engage with the topics, among other things.
Republic Bharat is the fourth most-mentioned user on Koo, with Union ministers Ravi Shankar Prasad and Piyush Goyal also featuring in the top 10, the study stated. BJP leader Sambit Patra is on the list as well, and so is the ‘Kisan Ekta Morcha’ (a collective of farmers opposed to the Modi government’s new farm laws), it added.
The researchers sought to study the app, which has surpassed 47 lakh users (as of 16 March), by “analysing the users, network dynamics, and content on Koo”. They aimed to “perform an extensive characterisation” of the app, “in terms of its user demographic and content”, to “present the first dataset of users, their connections, and content”, and to study “the network and communities formed on this multilingual platform”.
What is Koo?
Launched in March 2020, Koo offers another space for microblogging, or putting up social media posts with limited character counts. Users can post a maximum of 400 characters in one “koo”, as the posts on the portal are called, as against 280 on Twitter.
The general working of the two platforms is the same — allowing users to share the messages showing up on their feed and following certain accounts — but Koo seeks to set itself apart by pitching itself as a portal for many Indian languages such as Hindi, Kannada, Telugu, and Marathi.
The app, founded by Aprameya Radhakrishna and Mayank Bidawatka, was among the winners of the Narendra Modi government’s “Digital India AatmaNirbhar Bharat App Innovate Challenge” in August 2020.
Surge in users
Koo gained massive popularity during the Modi government’s stand-off with Twitter earlier this year — at the peak of the farmers’ protest and in the wake of the 26 January violence in Delhi — over the blocking of certain accounts that the former alleged were spreading misinformation.
Around this time, the app was discussed or mentioned by Republic TV, Goyal and the IT Ministry, which is led by Prasad, among others. According to the study, the sharpest surge in Koo’s user base was noticed around the time that the IT ministry tweeted about it.
“Almost 200,000 of the users signed up on the days around 10 February 2021, around the time the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Government of India tweeted about the app,” the study said.
ThePrint sent an email to Koo co-founder Radhakrishna seeking the latest user numbers but there was no response till the time of publishing this report. However, in an email sent on 10 February, Radhakrishna had said that Koo had had over 30 lakh downloads.
“We have 10X the number of downloads that we used to get on a usual day. The last 48 hours have been the highest number of users we have seen so far on Koo,” he had added.
As many as 19 lakh users joined Koo in the first two months of 2021, the study said.
Prof. Ponnurangam Kumaraguru of the Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology, one of the researchers who conducted the study, told ThePrint over email that more than three lakh users joined over three days in February — 37,195 on 8 February, 81,721 on 9 February, and 2,15,477 on 10 February. On a “normal day”, he said, around 9,500 new users join Koo.
On 9 February, Goyal tweeted that he had joined Koo, with the IT ministry tweet coming a day later.
I am now on Koo.
Connect with me on this Indian micro-blogging platform for real-time, exciting and exclusive updates.
Let us exchange our thoughts and ideas on Koo.
— Piyush Goyal (@PiyushGoyal) February 9, 2021
— Ministry of Electronics & IT (@GoI_MeitY) February 10, 2021
While it was championed by many BJP leaders during the stand-off with Twitter, Koo has dismissed claims of siding with anyone. But the study noted that it featured BJP-associated hashtags.
“We see hashtags like ‘#kooforindia’, ‘#bantwitter’, and ‘#koovstwitter’, which project a sentiment of competition between Twitter and Koo, and promote the Koo platform. Hashtags like ‘#indiawithmodi’, ‘#atmanirbharbharat’, ‘#modi’, ‘#modistrikesback’, and ‘#bjp’, which are associated with the Bhartiya Janata Party (sic) are also present. We observe the existence of Hindu-centric words like ‘jaishreeram’, ‘ram-ram’… etc,” the authors added.
Speaking to Business Today in March, the other co-founder Bidawatka had said the government has been among the early adopters of the app since it understands the importance of ‘Atmanirbhar’ solutions. “There are less than 0.1 per cent of politicians on the platform. Somehow, what the media really loves to look at is you have so many politicians and they are from BJP,” he added.
Radhakrishna had told ThePrint in February that they “welcome everyone irrespective of (their) views to join the platform since we want Koo to be a true reflection of India”. “We truly hope Koo will play a role of uniting India like never before,” he had added.
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)