Princeton-Area Founders Launch Free-Speech Platform for People with Opposing Views
Pranjit Kalita and Parth Sharda appreciate a good debate, as long as the facts are, in fact, facts.
But that’s not always the case.
They blame social media, where “fake news’’ is frustrating the masses, stifling free speech, affecting people’s mental health and ending longtime friendships with a click of the mouse.
Kalita and Sharda said that they have a remedy. It is a new platform and app they created called koyn.
“We are a free-speech platform for people with polar [opposite] opinions,” said Kalita, the 31-year-old founding consultant of koyn, which is based in Princeton. “We think of ourselves as being an opinion network, not a social network,” he added.
“We are going to bring people who are on the opposite extremes of any topic together, so that they can work out their issues. The platform empowers average citizens to start local or national discussions by sharing content and opinions and assigning two sides.”
Users must pick a side to engage in online discussions. The app safeguards user data and protects user identities through privacy-control features, according to a YouTube explanation of the platform. The platform also ensures that every new user who signs up is both real and unique.
“Users are treated without algorithmic or organizational biases, and can be anonymous,” said Sharda, 29, koyn cofounder. “This means that, unlike on other platforms, one-sided information and a feed [aren’t] curated for users based on what the system thinks they’re most likely to adhere to, which eventually mushrooms into fake news, echo chambers and an information vacuum,” he explained.
“Instead, on koyn, everything has two sides, and users are fed a healthy dose of opinions from those they disagree with due to the nature of the platform. As the system’s recommendation abilities increase, the most those recommendations will suggest will be topics of interest to users, but they will not be meant to stir up one side with misinformation about others,” he said.
“Organizational biases are the automated nature of AI [artificial intelligence] algorithms that make determinations based on gender or nationality,” Kalita said. “An example of one may be that women are more likely to be nurses, while men are doctors. Our platform is built without those elements of AI biases.”
Kalita and Sharda noted that the non-extremist majority has dropped out of the political discourse, and needs a haven where opposing viewpoints can coexist.
“When it comes to politics, yes, we are trying to attract people toward the middle who are interested in learning what the other side thinks, so that most of the key divisive issues get dealt with,” Kalita said.
“However, koyn is also a welcoming community for people to share their ideas and opinions on interests besides politics, on other topics such as sports, religion, culture, economics or social justice,” said Sharda.
Kalita and Sharda met at Purdue University as freshmen in the fall of 2012, in their chemistry recitation class. They hung out together throughout their four years of college, always sharing a common interest in politics. Kalita grew up in the Indian state of Assam; and Sharda was raised in Kota, Rajasthan, also in India. After graduating from college, Kalita spent two years studying at Princeton University, earning a master’s degree in computer science. Then he and Sharda collaborated on entrepreneurial ventures, including a global macro hedge fund they founded, Birkoa Capital Management (Princeton).
They started working together on koyn in 2018, when the pair were frequently talking about politics and economics, specifically political polarization, increasing extremist populist policies, and isolationist and nationalist measures.
“By analyzing and researching global trends for our hedge fund, we developed the forecasting capabilities, insight and performance success which ultimately led to creating koyn,” said Sharda.
“Quite frankly, we also saw a lot of division, so we decided to build something that could evaluate and quantify the differences and divisions, and benefit society,” Kalita explained. “We released koyn publicly on December 30, 2021.”
The startup’s team includes five members, spanning the areas of technology, marketing and finance.
It costs nothing to join koyn, and it’s available for downloading at the App Store and Google Play.
The pair’s research has led them to a few findings:
- Most people are not extremists, and want to see what the other side is thinking.
- Many people in the U.S. support the creation of a third political party.
- People who support one side of an issue have biased views of the world, and seek only information that supports their positions.
- Students who are encouraged to use the platform will overcome shyness and the fear of public speaking.
- People who participate will be inspired to think for themselves, and not get lost in the herd or fear reprisals or consequences of any kind.
The koyn team intends to protect the community from those who may join just to jam the website up with extreme views. It has an in-platform solution that works in multiple ways. For example, people can report content and block users, and they are able to upvote or downvote content. While upvoting can be done both by people on your side and against, downvoting can only happen among those belonging to your side.
“Thus, the self-policing aspect of the platform will allow users to keep out the bad-faith extremist actors,” said Sharda. “This way, koyn does not have to be in the position to be the arbiters of free speech or speech policing, since we inherently empower users to ‘self-police’ themselves.”
Kalita added, “In the future, we intend to invest in AI tools that could flag inappropriate or violent content through natural language processing, sentiment analysis and machine learning, so that we can weed out people who are about to say weird things or have already shared weird things.”
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