The company behind a widely used neighborhood networking app has responded to claims of rampant racial profiling and bigotry following The Root’s examination of racism on the increasingly popular genre of neighborhood-based social media.
Nextdoor is used to connect residents in over 198,000 neighborhoods in the U.S. alone, according to the company’s website. The app is the undisputed leader in a new subcategory of tech that allows users to create location-based miniature social media networks in their communities. After customers sign up for the service and verify their address, they become connected to a localized online community.
While apps like Nextdoor and Neighbors bill themselves as a way to communicate with neighbors to borrow a ladder, find lost pets or discuss road repairs, The Root spoke with people in cities and towns across the country who shared stories of how they discovered that they were essentially surrounded by BBQ Beckies and Pool Patrol Pauls. Readers shared troubling stories such as residents sending out a “spook alert” and calling the cops when a black woman visited her family’s beach house. Another described a situation that involved an armed man riding through the neighborhood looking for a suspicious “dark-skinned person” who was described in a Nextdoor post.
“As a community building platform, we explicitly prohibit racial profiling and take this issue extraordinarily seriously,” Nextdoor said in a statement to The Root. “When we learned of incidents in Oakland, CA in 2015, we consulted activists, academics, and experts in this field to determine the best approach to address this critical issue on the platform.”
Nextdoor said tweaks to its algorithm and community standards have resulted in a 75 percent reduction in “problematic posts,” noting that “less than 0.01% of all posts on Nextdoor are related to racial profiling.” Now, when users post about crime and safety, the company requires the person reporting on someone to share more than just the suspected person’s race, explaining:
As you will see in the below screenshots, when posting into crime & safety on Nextdoor, we require neighbors to share more information than just race. The post flow prompts you to share additional information, like hair, top, bottom, shoes, etc. Moreover, as you will see in photo three, if you do not include details in the description — we have a prompt that requires neighbors to add at least two descriptors such as clothes or hair color.
Dr. Jennifer Eberhardt, a Stanford psychologist researching the psychological association between race and crime, has been retained by the tech company and Nexdoor has developed a ”comprehensive Preventing Racial Profiling Resource Center” to help them understand the “origins and impact of unconscious bias.” According to Nextdoor’s statement, the app’s developers are also testing a new feature called “Kindness Reminders” that will “encourage members to slow down, think before they post, and be their best selves and neighbor.”
None of the people who shared stories with The Root specifically accused Nextdoor of racism. But many said the prevalence of racial profiling caused them to discontinue their use of the app.
Or, as former Nextdoor member Ian Aiello succinctly explained:
“Fuck that site.”