San Francisco-based Nextdoor is a social media site that in many way serves as a 21st century neighborhood bulletin board — replacing the cork board at the church or local market with a digital way for neighbors to swap tips, gossip, and concerns. Unfortunately, the company also has a widely recognized problem of racial profiling committed by the residents (a.k.a. Nextdoor users) living in the 98,000 neighborhoods it covers. Well, that's all about to change — or at least Nextdoor CEO Nirav Tolia hopes it is. The Chronicle reports that Tolia yesterday met with several concerned Oakland groups and informed them of successful efforts to tamp down the structural elements of his product which make this kind of racism the apparent default mode.
“We’re making progress, and we’re learning a lot,” Tolia explained at a meeting of the Life Enrichment Committee of the Oakland City Council. He was speaking of efforts his company has made, including the hiring of a lobbyist for community outreach, to do things like enable users to flag posts as racial profiling.
In documents obtained by KRON4, Tolia can be seen making his case — that his company is actively and successfully working to reduce incidents of racial profiling on Nextdoor — directly to the residents of Oakland.
"When we learned that some members were using Nextdoor to racially profile their fellow neighbors, we were truly saddened," he wrote. "Simply stated: we consider profiling of any kind to be unacceptable."
Tolia then details six specific actions his company has taken (one example: "Released a mandatory warning screen that instructs members to 'focus on behavior, not appearance' when initially posting in the Crime & Safety section") that he says have had a noticeable impact on how people use the service. And he's not the only one who thinks so.
“Your changes are truly groundbreaking,” claimed Oakland Vice Mayor Annie Campbell Washington, who chaired yesterday's meeting. Others agreed, with Shikira Porter of Neighbors for Racial Justice calling the changes "huge," adding that they "will allow people to ride bikes through a neighborhood without feeling like someone is thinking they’re up to something.”
Even if Nextdoor's actions represent merely a first step, it is refreshing to see a company actually listen to the concerns of the community, and then make changes based on those concerns. Here's hoping it works.