Almost a week after the indefinite suspension of Twitter’s operations announced by the Nigerian government took effect on June 4, accounts for the “Government of Nigeria” and other government officials were created on Indian microblogging platform, Koo.
All the accounts created were afterwards verified with a yellow badge and have started putting out regular official updates. The Government of Nigeria page has amassed 49,000 followers, compared to the 1.4 million followers on its Twitter page. Koo presents itself as a Twitter alternative with less stringent moderation policies.
Koo’s CEO, Aprameya Radhakrishna, welcomed the Nigerian government to the app, also announcing their first international extension plan into Africa’s most populous country and their plans to use local Nigerian languages on the app. Growth in India was bolstered by government support and the use of local languages. However, it remains uncertain whether Koo will thrive in the diverse Nigerian market in the same way it did in its home market, India, where it has over 6 million users.
As Koo leverages the Twitter ban vacuum to expand in Nigeria, Nigerians, particularly the Arewa youth who are leading socio-political movements in the northern part of the country, are switching to the platform as a way of continuing online public conversations about their interests.
“I consider it a worthy alternative to Twitter. It has richer features compared to the app,” says Ayobami Adewuyi, a digital marketing expert and HR analyst, who recently created an account on Koo and spoke about her user experience. “For instance, it has a dedicated button to directly share stuff from there to other social media. I find the dedicated WhatsApp icon right beside the re-Koo button ingenious.” Whatsapp is the most popular social media platform in Nigeria. It is used by 93% of internet users in the country according to a study by Datareportal.
She also likes Koo’s longer 400-character limit, as compared to Twitter’s 280 characters. She believes that with some tweaks, Koo could become the go-to microblogging platform in Nigeria and that the Twitter ban gives it some time to expand in the market.
Adewuyi’s enthusiasm is not shared with everyone. Olumide Glowville, a Nigerian social media analyst and content strategist, doesn’t believe Koo “will usurp Twitter in Nigeria anytime soon, if ever. If we go by the general trend of mass social media adoption, Koo has not fulfilled any of the basics. It is at best an opportunistic platform that will struggle to maintain its hold if or when circumstances change.”
He says for Koo to gain massive acceptance and patronage, top influencers, celebrities, opinion shapers, content creators, and even politicians must endorse, use it, and share content from there to other platforms. Without that, there is no fear of missing out (FOMO), which is one thing a digital platform of this age needs to thrive.
With the Koo app having 6 million users compared to Twitter’s reported 152 million daily active users in 2019, even the Nigerian government’s enthusiastic uptake of the app can only push it so far, believes Babatunde Akin-Moses, an economic and tech policy analyst and CEO of Sycamore NG, a financial services firm. He says, “Koo is not an effective platform for the government to get its message out to the world, seeing that the reach is significantly limited.”
Since Koo’s entry into Nigeria, high-profile personalities in the Nigerian political and activism spaces have been dissociating themselves from fake Koo accounts created in their names. But despite the ban and an arrest threat, Nigerian Twitter users have been bypassing the local restriction to continue tweeting through Virtual Private Networks (VPN) and the hashtag #KeepItOn has been trending. According to recent analysis by Top10VPN, an independent UK-based review platform, the increase in the demand for VPN services in Nigeria has risen to over 1,400%.
In the meantime though, Akin-Moses notes that the government’s current friendly approach to Koo is good for Koo in terms of being able to boost their user base in Nigeria as long as they keep complying with local laws. He anticipates though that the good days will be short-lived, saying, “Koo wouldn’t want to do anything to jeopardize this opportunity. But when Koo gets tens of millions of followers, it may also start getting demands to censor content. That will be a good time to test the principles and resolve of the platform.”
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