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Can Nextdoor Solve Its Racism Problem?

Nextdoor, the hyper local social network, is seen on a computer screen in Washington, DC.
Nextdoor, the hyper local social network, is seen on a computer screen in Washington, DC.

Nextdoor is one of the world’s best-known local community apps. It’s a resource where people can connect with others who live close by, advertise events and discuss local ordinances. Its timeline is often populated by lost cat searches and requests for babysitters, 

But, all too often, racist and bigoted posts appear. Some warn shop owners that children of color were walking around stores, some make disparaging comments about protesters supporting racial justice, and much more.

In June of 2020, The Verge spoke with Kalkidan G., a Black woman who moved with her family to Rancho Santa Fe in California. She’s one of many Black users who have had problems with racist posts on NextDoor

Kalkidan found the app, a neighborhood-focused social network, useful for local news and vetting repair companies. She’s used it for “everything” over the last few years, even if the comments on her posts about contracting companies would spiral into unwanted political conversations. She could brush that off. But as Black Lives Matter protests began to take place in her area, her white neighbors voiced their condemnation of the movement. All the vital information organizing peaceful protests was drowned out by comments of “All Lives Matter,” “#BeachLivesMatter,” and, at times, threats of violence.

Despite its public statements, black users on Nextdoor are being silenced by community moderators after participating in discussions about race. Some are opting to leave the app altogether while others are considering moving out of their neighborhoods based on what they’ve seen on the platform. “As a black person, I don’t feel safe at all using it for anything,” Kalkidan told The Verge. “I’m always terrified, thinking ‘Oh my god. I already know what so-and-so thinks of us.’ This is a very horrible situation to be in.”

The promise of a gated community like Rancho Santa Fe is to protect its members from outside intruders, but for Kalkidan, it’s her neighbors who she’s beginning to fear the most. While the same kinds of discussion are happening across Facebook and Twitter, Nextdoor’s hyper-local groups make tensions more intimate, more personal. Kalkidan knows the names and street addresses of people on her Nextdoor feed. She sees them when she goes for a walk, shops at the grocery store, and at school events.

The app is now taking steps to make the space safer for everyone, implementing software that might stop a poster before they say something racist, and providing training to its moderation teams.

But some people remain skeptical that the problematic posts will stop.

— Droll Embiid. (@GeeDee215) April 20, 2021

We get into Nextdoor’s Karen problem — and what, if anything, might fix it.

We reached out to Nextdoor ahead of this show, and they sent us a statement. 

We are taking our ongoing anti-racism work one step further with the launch of this new notification that detects language that could be specifically discriminatory to people of color. For years we have partnered with racial justice experts to ensure that Nextdoor is a welcoming place for all neighbors, announcing the Kindness Reminder, a first of its kind feature that detects offensive language – That prompt has resulted in a 30% reduction in incivil content.

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