Indians Take to Social Media to Trash Snapchat over Founder Controversial Comments
Messaging app Snapchat and its founder, Evan Spiegel were at the receiving end of Indian social media ire over the weekend, after disparaging comments allegedly made by him were widely circulated. Even as Snapchat, in a damage-limitation exercise, denied that Spiegel had made the controversial comments, rants flooded timelines and hashtags such as #BoycottSnapchat and #Uninstall-Snapchat trended. Many users downgraded the app on Google’s Play Store and Apple’s App Store.
The fury stemmed from comments Spiegel is supposed to have made in 2015 while dismissing an employee’s concern over slow growth in India. “This app is only for rich people. I don’t want to expand into poor countries like India and Spain,” he is said to have remarked, according to a recent report by American magazine Variety.
The comments are part of a lawsuit filed by former employee Anthony Pompliano. Snapchat described him as a “disgruntled employee fired for poor performance.” In his lawsuit, Pompliano also alleged that Snapchat, which went public in March, had exaggerated user data and that the company’s top executives were “completely misinformed” about key metrics.
“This is ridiculous. Obviously, Snapchat is for everyone! It’s available worldwide to download for free,” said a spokesperson for Snapchat in an email response to ET. “Those words were written by a disgruntled former employee. We are grateful to our Snapchat community in India and around the world,” the spokesperson said.
The company also said that “Snap did not give investors misstated user metrics back in 2015; nor did Snap employees commit any of the panoply of alleged bad acts that litter Pompliano’s complaint.”
Serial entrepreneur K Ganesh said that even if the comments were true, every company had the right to choose its markets and chart its own course.
“If, in their wisdom and assessment, India is not a core market for whatever reason, that is completely the company’s prerogative. It is not a charitable organisation that they have to serve the world. On that, I don’t think we should take offence,” said Ganesh.
Nevertheless, he said it would be a bad idea for Snapchat and Spiegel to take the Indian market lightly.
“We have 200-million users of Facebook and about four-million Snapchat users in India, which is by no means insignificant,” said Ganesh.
Snapchat has 158-million daily active users globally and over half of them are outside the US. Compared to other popular social media platforms, Snapchat has a much smaller but millennialheavy user base. WhatsApp , for instance, has 200 million users.
Others felt that the impact may be limited partly because of Snapchat’s small user base. “While everybody may have downloaded Snapchat, I don’t think the user base is very active. I think Hike Messenger has more users than Snapchat,” said Anand Lunia, general partner at India Quotient, an early stage venture capital fund that has invested in ShareChat, a regional language social networking app.
Industry watchers are also confident that the online outrage against Snapchat will be temporary and have no lasting impact. “I personally think everyone these days is too easily offended and worked up. How does some CEO’s alleged comment/view hurt our pride or devalue us? I took a glance at what’s trending in Spain — they have given this a pass,” said Sidharth Rao, CEO, WebChutney.
“We have seen this slacktivism in the past, when Aamir Khan (Snapdeal’s then ambassador) said something that hurt some people and then started downgrading the Snapdeal app. I think this will pass… gives lots of people a reason to show outrage on a slow news day.”
Snapdeal, incidentally, seems to have been an unintended victim as it was confused for the social media app and received quite a few downgrades.
That prompted Snapdeal founder Kunal Bahl to express dismay with this tweet: “Ppl asking us to make a statement that @snapdeal is not @snapchat was possibly the last thing I thought I would ever need to do.”
This is not the first time a Silicon Valley boss has faced social media ire after making a comment about India. In early 2016, venture capitalist and Facebook board member Marc Andreessen said, “Anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for India for decades. Why stop now?” His comment in a tweet came after the regulator rejected the social media giant’s plans to selectively offer free internet. Facebook cofounder Mark Zuckerberg disavowed the tweet and Andreessen apologised.