Thursday, February 15, 2024

Nextdoor has gotten way out of hand (Rick Reilly, Washington Post Opinion, February 5, 2024)

So grateful to Al Gore, Jr. for helping invent the Internet. Testified before him on Oak Ridge pollution July 11, 1983.  Still waiting for answers to some of my questions about what our Government did to us. Meanwhile our Internet has helped examine, explore and explode the stinky corners of our society.  But there's also the problems with Silicon Valley's facilitation of harm to people, especially kids.  Gossip on the Internet, Lashon Hara, trivial pursuits?  Sometimes.   What is your experience with Nextdoor and other social media on issues that matter to us, in the wake of the immolation of local newspapers? 

Opinion Nextdoor has gotten way out of hand

Contributing columnist
February 5, 2024 at 5:45 a.m. EST
(Michelle Kondrich/The Washington Post) 
4 min
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Are you bummed you weren’t around when the Stasi ruled? Do you wish you could’ve been one of Mao Zedong’s millions of neighborhood snitches? Maybe watch the Red Guards drag off your least favorite aunt?

Not to worry, the bad old days are back — thanks to

On Nextdoor all you have to do is sign up, log in and start profiling everyone on your block. Teenager in a hoodie walking on your street? Lock your doors. Black guy with a backpack standing on the corner? Call the cops.

Just last week on Nextdoor, someone in the Hamptons posted a front-door video of a teenage girl and wrote, “Does anyone recognize this young woman?” Yes, her mom did: “She is selling cookies to raise money to go on a high school trip. Shame on you. … Not everyone is a thief, or a bad person.”

You’d never know it on Nextdoor. The hilarious podcast “I’ve Had It” found this one the other day: “I’ve seen a suspicious person now numerous times,” someone posted. “Aged mid-50s and white … Drives a luxury car but never seems to go to work. … Not sure how this person affords to do this … Hence, I’ve reported him to the IRS … Stay vigilant!”

And it’s not just Nextdoor. Aspiring vigilantes can also gather on Facebook and WhatsApp neighborhood groups and start whispering campaigns. You want to take America’s temperature? Lurk around on a few of them to see how petty and judgmental we can be.

There’s a Nextdoor user criticizing the paltry size of some of the Halloween candy being handed out “in a town with the fine reputation of Rancho Cucamonga.” There’s the vegan couple complaining about the smell of their neighbor’s barbecue invading their “meat-free radius.” (Is there a kale-free radius?)

One time, a homeowner was alarmed that someone spilled baked beans in her mailbox: “Is this a gang thing?”

Yes, the deadly Van Camp’s Vipers.

Occasionally, I try to swim against the madness. A woman who lives near me posted that “some guy just stopped his car, rolled down the window and took a picture of my house. Probably casing it for a robbery. I’m calling the police.” I replied, “Or … maybe he just liked your house? Or he’s in real estate? Or he likes your rhododendrons?” She told me to butt out.

Oh, no, there’s no butting out on Nextdoor, only butting in. Somebody posted the other day about the “slow moving vehicle following the school bus every morning.” Alarming! Turned out it was the newspaper delivery guy.

It isn’t all terrible. Nextdoor is great for reporting lost pets, finding a good plumber and issuing alerts about doorbell-ringing, nap-ruining Jehovah’s Witnesses. But it’s gotten way out of hand. The opportunity to play Paul Blart mall cop brings out the worst in people, and their worst can make the perfectly innocent feel persecuted, unwelcome and angry.

And way too often, those innocents are people of color. In Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., a firestorm started on Nextdoor in 2020 about a Black Lives Matter protest some high school students were going to put on. But some neighbors read “protest” as planned “riot.” One wrote, “If anyone gets unruly or violent, I plan on coming with pepper spray and a stun gun to help the police … Looters need to be taught a lesson.” Pretty soon, the Target store had boarded up all its windows. In Oakland a couple of years ago, a guy posted a doorbell picture of a “suspicious” Black man and someone commented, “He looks like he is capable of anything.This is where the lunacy stops being entertaining. Revved up by neighbors, people are far more likely to call 911, to call the police, to “take action.” That’s the kind of “action” that got a Skittles-bearing kid named Trayvon Martin killed by a neighborhood watch captain. In a country with more guns than people, you can get shot for pulling into the wrong driveway. Snoop sites can be petri dishes for paranoia and paranoia can become panic.

“Nextdoor taught me that my neighbors are bad people,” said one former subscriber online. “I really would have preferred not to know that.” It’s not entirely the fault of the people who run Nextdoor. They’ve got all kinds of reminders to be kind, to not be racist, to not overreact. But its very existence fosters exactly that. It’s like owning a roadside bar and telling people not to drink and drive.

Nextdoor says it’s used in 315,000 neighborhoods in 11 countries around the world, and  1 in 3 U.S. households. From following it, I’ve learned one thing. The person on your block you should fear the most is not the guy in the hoodie, it’s the guy at the keyboard.

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