The neighborhood-focused social media company Nextdoor has enjoyed tremendous growth since its 2011 San Francisco launch. The company, which differentiates itself from competitors by limiting its online groups to those who live within specific geographic areas, is designed for the more private exchange of communication between neighbors around the country. The company has the stated goal of being the "easiest way to keep up with everything in your neighborhood." There's just one problem — the gated community feel of the network has resulted in ever-increasing claims of racial profiling on the site, and a group of Oakland activists took the company to task yesterday for not doing enough to combat the discriminatory actions of Nextdoor users.
A group calling itself Neighbors for Racial Justice met yesterday with Nextdoor CEO and co-founder Nirav Tolia to express concern that the network has become a bastion of racial profiling, with neighbors frequently posting reports of "suspicious activity" that is often nothing more than the existence a person of color. That this is a problem for Nextdoor is no secret, and has been written about both by The East Bay Express and Fusion.
The East Bay Express reports that the meeting, which took place yesterday at Impact Hub Oakland, elicited promises of specific actions from Tolia — including the addition of a "racial profiling button" to the website.
"We want to create that very specific signal for us," The East Bay Express reports Tolia as telling those in attendance.
This promise follows on the heels of an October 15th blog post by the CEO, titled "Racial Profiling: The Opposite of Being Neighborly." The post addresses community concerns about racial profiling on Nextdoor, and promises to work toward addressing them.
"Simply stated: we consider profiling of any kind to be unacceptable," wrote Tolia. "Moving forward, we are creating ways to remind members of [guidelines prohibiting racial profiling] when they post in the Crime and Safety section. We are investigating better techniques for keeping divisive discussions productive, and we are partnering with conflict resolution experts for training and product feedback. This is an important cause for us and we won’t let up."
Kelsey Grady, Nextdoor's head of communications, told Neighbors for Racial Justice that the company also plans to "[revise] the guidelines to better address concerns about racial profiling, but has not yet decided on the specifics of those rewrites."
The members of Neighbors for Racial Justice proposed a series of more substantive changes, according the Express. These proposed changes include "prohibiting the use of racially offensive 'code words,'" and "[banning] descriptions of suspects that are vague, such as 'young Black man,'" instead opting for specific and more granular descriptions.
"These descriptions are directly responsible for the harassment of neighbors that 'fit the description,' and places them in danger of negative police interactions," Bedford Palmer, a member of Neighbors for Racial Justice, told Tolia.
While Tolia apparently took the group's concerns seriously, it is obvious that Nextdoor has a long battle combating racial profiling ahead of it.
"One of our missions is to actually create very constructive dialogue that leads to safer neighborhoods where people feel like they belong," The East Bay Express reports Tolia as telling those gathered. Here's hoping he and his Nextdoor team can pull it off.