Koo -- the made-in-India rival of Twitter -- will not charge users for a verification badge, its co-founder and CEO Aprameya Radhakrishna said as he took on the larger rival for allegedly first creating bots and now charging users for verification.
Koo, which allows users to express views in Indian languages, has already crossed 50 million downloads and is now flying into the rival's nest, starting a campaign on Twitter by making itself prominently visible on verified handles and offering them better deals on its platform at no cost.
Since taking over Twitter, billionaire Elon Musk has set in motion massive changes, sacking employees and talking of levying a $8 charge for 'verified' handles.
Koo, on the other hand, offers Aadhaar-based self-verification and a free-of-cost yellow verification tag for eminent persons.
Radhakrishna said Twitter bots, also known as zombies, are automated accounts controlled by bot software.
Their purpose is to tweet and retweet content for specific goals on a large scale while resembling everyday Twitter users.
"Bots on Twitter are known to be responsible for spreading fake news campaigns, spamming, violating others' privacy, and sock-puppet marketing," he told PTI.
"This is a problem of Twitter's own making."
At one point, Twitter encouraged bots as a novel idea but has now struggled to control them, he said.
"Its only response (in 2021) has been to offer a program to label some bots as 'good' based on a declaration by the bot!
"This is an artificial solution and completely sidesteps the problem," he added.
"If Twitter is meant to be the town square of human interaction, then only real humans should be allowed to speak in the square."
He further said the only way forward is to ensure that accounts that do not verify themselves as humans must be rooted out of the platform.
"Just like the offline world, every human is entitled to be recognised as a human in the online world as well," he said.
In the Indian social media space, verifying yourself as a human is a legal right under Rule 4(7) of the Intermediary Guidelines, 2021.
"Twitter's proposal of charging money for a right, which is granted by law, is nothing short of putting salts to wounds that were created by Twitter itself," he said.
"Twitter created the bot problem, paid only lip service to solve it and then now intends to gouge money from citizens for an identity document that was paid for by the Indian taxpayer!"
The internet, he said, needs to be about the people, not about the company or the owner.
"Koo believes in enabling trustworthy and healthy conversations between people.
"Earlier this year, we started by offering voluntary self-verification free of charge and more than 125,000 Indians have availed of this right.
"All that a user has to do is verify their identity using their Aadhaar number and within seconds they can verify that they are the true owner of the card by entering the OTP sent to the mobile linked to their Aadhaar.
"All of this is done in the most secure manner using an UIDAI-approved third-party vendor," he said.
Koo, he said, will continue to safeguard this important digital right and "the verification of humanness will always remain free."
Serial entrepreneur Radhakrishna, known for building ride-sharing company TaxiForSure (which was acquired by Ola for $200 million in 2015), started Koo -- a language-focused microblogging platform -- in early 2020.
It was meant to be a homegrown, hyperlocal alternative to Twitter.
Stating that eminence is a recognition of the impact, stature, achievements, abilities, or professional status of a person, he said Koo awards a Yellow Tick against user profiles based on transparent, pre-defined criteria which reflect regional ethos and achievements.
"Koo takes pride in its transparent and inclusive criteria which is a far cry from Twitter's legacy criteria of 'Authentic, Notable and Active' or even the newer criteria of being able to pay $8!
"Koo is in fact the first social media platform that celebrates Eminence with a clear and transparent methodology."
The Koo Eminence Tick, he said, cannot be purchased and is granted forever.
"The ability to purchase a blue tick and be considered a special verified person is a disservice to the real heroes contributing to society.
"The purchased blue tick makes fun of these real heroes who must continue to pay a foreign company every month just to be recognised for their work," he added.