Back in March, the New York Times offered a glowing report on the remarkable growth of Nextdoor.com, which had just pulled in $110 million in new venture capital for a company with an estimated worth of more than a billion dollars:
In short, it is all about community. Nextdoor has slowly built a network of more than 53,000 microcommunities across the United States, all based on local neighborhood boundaries. Nextdoor restricts communication to only those people who live close to one another; users are required to verify their identity and home address upon signing up.
Consider Nextdoor a modern, more attractive version of a community email list service or Yahoo Groups, the popular message board. Users can post neighborhood news, offer items for sale, ask for help finding lost pets or organize a block party.
Nextdoor also works with about 650 local government agencies that can send out citywide alerts on things like utility shutdowns in specific areas, crime alerts or emergency-preparedness tips.
But beneath the laudatory coverage, a darker side of the social medium was emerging, according to a report that same month from Fusion, headlined “Nextdoor, the social network for neighbors, is becoming a home for racial profiling.”
The report began with an incident in one neighborhood in Oakland, not so far from Casa esnl:
As Meredith Ahlberg ushered friends into her home in East Oakland’s Ivy Hill neighborhood for a party on a Saturday in early March, she noticed that her phone was lighting up with notifications. There were new messages from agitated neighbors on the localized social network Nextdoor, warning the neighborhood about “sketchy” men—one in a “white hoodie,” the other “a thin, youngish African American guy wearing a black beanie, white t-shirt with dark opened button down shirt over it, dark pants, tan shoes, gold chain.” These men, the poster wrote, were “lingering” and searching for a nonexistent address.
“Scary sketchy,” a poster commented. One neighbor suggested the situation warranted a call to the Oakland Police Department.
But Ahlberg, who is white, recognized the “suspicious” men: they were her friends, looking for her front door. By the time she saw the posts, her friends had found the correct address and Ahlberg was looking right at the ‘thin, young, black man’ with the gold chain. The co-owner of a clothing store in downtown Oakland, he looked “ridiculously handsome and stylish,” she said in an interview. She was horrified at her neighbors’ assumptions.
It was, in short, a case of asking questions while being black in a white neighborhood.
But the Oakland problem is even deeper, according to a report just published in the East Bay Express:
Nextdoor.com, a website that bills itself as the “private social network for neighborhoods,” offers a free web platform on which members can blast a wide variety of messages to people who live in their immediate neighborhood. A San Francisco-based company founded in 2010, Nextdoor’s user-friendly site has exploded in popularity over the last two years in Oakland. As of this fall, a total of 176 Oakland neighborhoods have Nextdoor groups — and 20 percent of all households in the city use the site, according to the company.
On Nextdoor, people give away free furniture or fruit from their backyards. Users reunite lost dogs with their owners. Members organize community meetings and share tips about babysitters and plumbers. But under the “Crime and Safety” section of the site, the tone is much less neighborly. There, residents frequently post unsubstantiated “suspicious activity” warnings that result in calls to the police on Black citizens who have done nothing wrong. In recent months, people from across the city have shared with me Nextdoor posts labeling Black people as suspects simply for walking down the street, driving a car, or knocking on a door. Users have suggested that Black salesmen and mail carriers may be burglars. One Nextdoor member posted a photo of a young Black boy who failed to pick up dog poop and suggested that his neighbors call the police on him.
White residents have also used Nextdoor to complain and organize calls to police about Black residents being too noisy in public parks and bars — raising concerns that the site amplifies the harmful impacts of gentrification. On Nextdoor and other online neighborhood groups — including Facebook pages and Yahoo and Google listservs — residents have called Black and Latino men suspicious for being near bus stops, standing in “shadows,” making U-turns, and hanging around outside coffee shops. Residents frequently warn each other to be on the look out for suspects with little more description than “Black” and “wearing a hoodie.”
Accompanying the article on the alternative weekly’s website is a video we pass along:
Unwelcome at Home: Black Oaklanders on Racial Profiling
Once again, a medium heralded as a way to bring people together has become a conduit for the perpetuation of stereotypes [think “comments”]. But unlike many website comments, Nextdoor posters are identified and their messages seem much more temperate. Nonetheless, prejudices shape the context, assumptions about how a designated group is prone to act in specific situations.
And once again we are presented with proof that, contrary to claims of the Rabid Right, bigotry ain’t dead. And it helps tp recognize that each of us own peculiarities of thought and action folks in other times and places might deem ignorant, even dangerously so.
But all that means little to those targeted by manifestly wrong-headed bias in a culture which can’t even fully acknowledge the collective and continuing trauma wrought by the institution of chattel slavery.
You’ll find that reality right Nextdoor.