Last week’s mass resignations from Twitter prompted users from all over the world to start looking for alternative social media platforms. In Brazil, it appears as if many users jumped to Koo, an Indian social media app.
On Friday, Aprameya Radhakrishna, CEO of Koo, told Rest of World that “we have seen an influx of users from Brazil for the last 16 hours and already have close to a million Brazilians who have joined the platform.” Apptopia, a U.S.-based company that tracks app and mobile device data, confirmed to Rest of World that at least 500,000 users in Brazil downloaded the app between this past Friday and Sunday.
When asked why he thought Brazilians were flocking to the app, Radhakrishna replied “the world is looking for a Twitter alternative right now.” Some Brazilian users told Rest of World that, rather than picking Koo as a Twitter alternative, they were amused by the platform’s name.
“Koo” is homophonous with the word for “ass” in Portuguese. On November 19, Felipe Neto, a Brazilian celebrity influencer with 15.4 million Twitter followers, tweeted out, “My goal is to have the biggest koo [ass] in Brazil,” and linked to his Koo account. He now has Koo’s most popular Brazilian handle with close to half a million followers at time of publication. Koo claims to currently have over 50 million users worldwide.
Before last week, Koo was virtually unknown in Brazil. “I’d never heard of Koo before Thursday,” said Hernani Silva, a marketing expert from São Paulo, told Rest of World. “And when I looked for a “Plan B” [social media platform] this Indian app never showed up in my research.”
The influx of new users prompted the India-based Koo team to focus its efforts on supporting users in Brazil. The company’s official Twitter account posted photos of staff members pulling an all-nighter to keep servers working. Despite that, many users reported that Koo was slow or unresponsive in Brazil after being overwhelmed. The company launched a Portuguese version of the app on Sunday.
Koo’s sudden success in Brazil came with a series of technical issues. Hackers exploited them, with one gaining access to Felipe Neto’s account, though the company claimed that all his data was safe even if the hacker was able to post under the temporarily stolen account.
Koo’s official Twitter account admitted in a Portuguese-language post that, “Our team relaxed the security a bit to make sure everyone could get their OTP [one time password] and the hacker used this flaw.”
“Twitter has a large history of being a cornerstone of digital communication for a large group of Brazilian users. That won’t go away in a blink of an eye,” Carlos Affonso Souza, director of the Rio de Janeiro Institute for Technology and Society, told Rest of World. “Koo could turn out to be a safety measure for Brazilians that fear that Twitter might either shut down or change dramatically the way it operates. Ironically, this safety measure might end up not being entirely safe considering that little is known by Brazilians about how reliable Koo actually is.”
When asked about whether they were worried about the security risks inherent in Koo, users were generally sanguine. “These problems already exist on Twitter and Instagram,” said Bruna Paese, an entrepreneur from Florianópolis in the south of Brazil. “Extremists use Whatsapp groups and Telegram to share their hate.”
It’s unclear what the flood of new users will mean to Koo in the long term. The platform, which received $10 million in VC funding earlier this year, still lags far behind Twitter or Facebook in the country. Brazil is Twitter’s fourth biggest market worldwide, with over 19 million users.
“The service still needs a lot of improvement to be a great Twitter substitute,” said Silva. But, he told Rest of World, the platform also has an inherent upside. “The best thing about Koo is that Elon Musk is not its owner.”