Interview With Abhishek Asthana, Co-Founder Of New Social Media Startup Zorro

by Arihant Pawariya - Jan 27, 2022 01:25 PM +05:30 IST
Interview With Abhishek Asthana, Co-Founder Of New Social Media Startup ZorroZorro Co-Founder Abhishek Asthana
  • Zorro is a pseudonymous social media platform where people can share content without fear.

    It’s difficult to have those honest conversations on open platforms, but on Zorro, you can be yourself, says company's co-founder Abhishek Asthana.

Abhishek Asthana, who goes by the pseudonym Gabbbar Singh on Twitter, is a former software engineer. He worked for close to a decade in corporate world before starting his own advertisement agency Ginger Monkey in 2019. His latest venture is Zorro, a pseudonymous social media platform that he has co-founded.

We talked at length about the idea behind Zorro, how it will function and how the company will get around the complexities of moderating the content on it. Below are edited excerpts:

Q. What was the thinking behind naming this social media venture as Zorro instead of opting for a desi name?

We wanted a name that is cosmopolitan because this social media network is not going to be limited to India. We have plans to go international as well. Zorro is a fictional character, a masked vigilante who is hero of the common folks and defends them against the corrupt. He discovered the truth. So, the idea was to give a mask to people so that they can express themselves freely without being shackled by the fear of denting their personal brand.

It’s very difficult to have those honest conversations on open platforms. On Zorro, you can be yourself. However, it’s not a platform for anonymous but pseudonymous.

Q. What’s the difference in practical terms from the user's point of view?

We looked at the history of a lot of anonymous platforms and realised that soon degenerated into a place of bullying, abuse, negativity etc. Only Reddit clicked but that was because it was topic driven not personality driven. You go on Reddit to browse a topic rather than a person. On Twitter, it's the opposite.

In an anonymous platform which is also person centric, there is greater risk of degeneration. So, we decided that we will ring fence our platform meaning that when one signs up, only those who are in your contact list or the ones you follow on Twitter will show up as people to follow. But you won’t know their real identity on Zorro. Of course, on top of this if you find someone on Zorro, outside of your close contacts, who is interesting, you can choose to follow them.

Q. But that can still degenerate into trolling and negativity, no?

Our assumption is that even with a mask, surely you won’t be so abusive or negative towards those who are in your circle that you make the experience bad for them. After all, these are the people whose numbers you have saved on your phone or choose to follow on Twitter. As far as the ones who are not in your circle and you chose to follow them later on Zorro, that’s the choice you have made. But there are options to control that also with block, mute etc.

Q. So in a way, it’s like combining WhatsApp and Twitter into a Zorro feed where you have friends/family and others who are posting anonymously?

Yes. So, you get a notification on Zorro that someone in your circle has anonymously posted something about the Paytm IPO or on a movie release. You would be curious that one of my friends has posted it so I should check out what they are saying. Now, in Twitter, there is a global context and there are celebrities and it’s driven by news cycles and events. Zorro has a local context also.

In our friends circle, very few will be on Twitter. But on Zorro, everyone can be connected. We tested it on college campuses. It was a huge success. Now, these users in colleges were not looking to follow famous people but were rather talking about their faculty, mess food quality and other issues. Think of Zorro as WhatsApp transported on a platform where you can connect with your close contacts anonymously. Or think of Zorro as your company’s WhatsApp group in which your boss is not a member. You can express yourself rather freely. Of course, the difference is, on Zorro, the freedom will be greater because nobody can know your real identity.

Q. The biggest headache would be how to moderate the content because the content is massive, it’s practically impossible to censor everything that is wrong and leave the rest. And what ends up happening is that due to inconsistent and unfair taking down of content, there is backlash and accusations of platforms being politically motivated. How are you going to tackle this issue?

Content moderation was the first thing that came when we were pitching Zorro to investors for seed funding. Brining anonymity, enjoying it and creating growth of users is comparatively easy as we have seen with previous attempts at bringing such platforms to fruition. So social media sites have their own user policies and there is the law of the land. These platforms try to play between these two domains. Now, as far as India is concerned, clear rules have been laid out so we will always be staying on the right side of law.

As far as regulating abuses, hate speech, etc. is concerned, we are not going to hire editors and try to censor people and certify who is right and who is wrong. We will have a report button like other platforms and then on the basis of already and clearly laid out rules, the issue will be decided.

Also, we have taken a big decision to not have images and videos on the platform because those are not anonymous and harder to track via algorithms. If someone posts a nude photo of anyone, that can’t be anonymous. That’s what happened with one of the anonymous platforms in Brazil where that had to be shut down after huge outrage. So, we have taken this punt to not have images because we may lose out on users who aren’t into reading much but this is a conscious decision we have taken to cut down on misuse.

Arihant Pawariya is Senior Editor, Swarajya.
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