Have you heard about the social network, Nextdoor? Because there’s a chance Nextdoor has heard of you. It’s still relatively small—20-30 million visits a month vs. Facebook’s 20-30 billion—but in a way, it’s supposed to be kind of small. Nexdoor is a network for neighborhoods, about neighborhoods. It attracts classified ads, trash tips, petitions, and most importantly: information about problematic residents.
How problematic are you? Enough to be on Nextdoor? The bar may be lower than you think. After spending a few weeks on Nextdoor, I have a few new concerns about how much surveillance we’re under. Not from the NSA, but from the person borrowing sugar down the street.
I joined Nextdoor when I moved to Los Angeles—Los Feliz specifically. I was hoping to get the word out about my videography business, but was quickly greeted with an online “gated community.” In order to prove I was a member of my neighborhood, I had to enter a code that they mailed directly to my address. Google Places has a verification step similar to this, but in this context, it was more the equivalent of a secret handshake.
Once I got in, my self-promotion fell on completely deaf ears. I later learned that the website has a classified section and sells promoted posts and paid placements for businesses like mine. Those didn’t work much better. The people of Nextdoor weren’t interested in video, unless it was security video.
The Nextdoor Population By Monetization
I’ve heard it said that if you want to know the demographic of a particular social media platform, look at who advertises on it. One promoted post that kept coming up last week on Nextdoor was for the Ring doorbell camera. It takes a picture of anyone who comes to your door. As I learned from helpful commenters, that’s how burglars “case the joint.” Do you think any actual burglars still say “case the joint?”
As I scrolled through the news feed, I found other posts featuring candid camera photos of neighbors. It looked like Ring’s ads were working, and Nextdoor was probably enjoying a great pay-per-click rate. The culture of this social network seemed to be united under the banner of “more afraid than normal” and there weren’t many incentives to change that.
Of course, that’s not all Nextdoor does. The promise that they make in their mission statement is that the website encourages face-to-face interaction outside of the website. To its credit, there are many posts that do just that.
Nextdoor Has Good Eggs…And Sour Milk
There’s Tatiana, who found someone’s dachshund dog. Her boyfriend even ran after the thing. That’s a good neighbor. Other people posted pictures of wandering dogs in hopes of notifying the owner.
There’s Chad’s post about a lingering skunk smell, Toni’s affordable sublet offer, Dan’s heads up for a book exchange, and Nick’s resources for clearing dumped furniture. Some people offered tips for dealing with dogs during the July 4th festivities that I personally found helpful.
And then there are more posts about community watch meetings and pictures of naughty neighbors. Just when I think I’ve made it through the muck of fear and defense, it’s back, luring me in.
For instance, I find secretly-taken photographs of people who knock on doors asking for money. I can understand the concern someone might feel when they’re forced to deal with a desperate person, but distributing images so other members of the community can comment and encourage police intervention doesn’t feel like “innocent until proven guilty.”
Worst of all might be Amy’s detailed post about getting in the middle of a parent cursing at her child. The vast majority of commenters encouraged her to call child protective services or the police. Her only reason for not doing so was fear of retaliation. One contrarian did chime in to suggest that maybe Amy shouldn’t have inserted herself into another person’s life like that.
He was quickly drowned in the noise of people calling for this woman’s head. I can’t stop imagining this mother losing her mind when police come knocking on her door one day because of an “anonymous tip.”
There Should Probably Be An “I” In “Spy”
As a child, I was taught that tattling was wrong, and in my hometown of Baltimore, MD, ratting on your neighbors has got to be the least neighborly thing you can do. But I’d be willing to bet that in the comfortable confines of Nextdoor: Fed Hill, you could find plenty of people doing just that. The website just makes it so damn easy and consequence-free. I’ll go as far as to say that ratting feels encouraged.
That’s because the prevailing value on Nextdoor has even deeper roots than the taboo against snitching; one of our country’s defining characteristics is that we always find ways to spy on each other. How else could we assure that everyone we live with is predestined by God to go to Heaven? The Puritans, the Calvinists, the Salem Witch Hunters, the McCarthyites; they were all playing one game: point and don’t be pointed at. Become the chosen one by choosing who isn’t.
The problem I have with Nextdoor is the same problem I have with NSA surveillance, or any other unwarranted infringement of privacy. The power is always one-sided. People on Nextdoor only reveal their paranoia to an exclusive social network (until some writer publishes an article about them). For the person having their worst day ever, the person who yells at a child, or asks for money, or pilfers a trashcan, the balance is not in their favor. You could have your picture posted online, your child reported to protective services, and your freedom taken away by police officers. Aided and abetted by an army of informants.
When I started this experiment, I hoped that Nextdoor would be a community gathering. A place to share ideas, collaborate, and hustle your wares. And it is that to a degree. But it’s also a place where the need for security and comfort and the need for freedom suffer an unfortunate clash.
Localizing The Big Debate: Freedom vs Security
I’ve had my home burglarized while I was in it. Looking back on the experience, part of me wishes I had had a doorbell camera to catch the asshole. I know the feeling of wondering who might be sitting in every idling car, and who might be ringing the doorbell for nefarious purposes. I decided after the George Zimmerman case to suppress that impulse. I accepted a little bit of insecurity in order to remain open-minded and trusting of the people around me.
Maybe I relate to “problem neighbors” more than the average Nextdoor user. I’ve been labelled one plenty of times. I got arrested for singing on a boardwalk, physically detained by a civilian for skateboarding on a public road, and tranquilized by an EMT for being drunk in public. I’ve been on both sides of the bad day coin. In those moments, it was the people who showed me kindness, patience, and neighborly love that made all the difference.
Not to be too “Kumbaya” about it, but maybe we need a little more tolerance for our neighbors, and a little less surveillance. About half of the posts I saw on Nextdoor were complaints about new developments, proposed rules about when people can do yard work, and unproven allegations. Some of you are probably rolling your eyes thinking “yeah, that’s what neighbors do, Devin…” I guess I had forgotten.
Now that these thoughts are semi-public for anyone with the right address to see, I won’t be having that problem anymore. Nextdoor is still a young social media platform, not wedded to any one demographic, and it could still help genuine community engagement happen. But for now, fear and security prevail.
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Nextdoor is monetizing fear. We’re getting tons of spam emails from them now. They’re trying to get us to sign up. The only way to “unsubscribe” is to sign up. So we blocked them. It’s the Gestapo all over again.
Thanks for the observations. I just got my nextdoor “invitation”. They make it sound so personal and “friendly”.
Hayley Hammond says
Jerry is right to be suspicious of the site. It is another layer of data gathering for the people who are big money investors, and make money by selling the data. Think Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. It is not about building community or linking up on issues that affect you and your neighbors, ie. break-ins, gentrification, etc. And, if you try to organize about a corporate/industry threat to your neighborhood…or share information on a nearby development out of character with the neighborhood, you will find your concerns banned from conversation.
The best way to build community is to take walks and greet your neighbors. Say “good morning” over the fence, or just wave to those out mowing their lawns. Our neighborhood has had several burglaries, so we all try to look out for each other. If we hear a strange noise we investigate. We are not in each other’s business, but we know each other’s names and occasionally share baked goods, bumper crops of fruit and produce from our gardens. Real community is not built on the internet or Facebook, but face to face.
Slvia Peters says
I signed up for this Nextdoor forum because my sister in law who is my neighbor recommended the site. I am a paralegal so I work out of my home. I made several posts in which I informed my neighbors on their ill advises in doing things that are harmful to other people and downright illegal. I was threatened by women from Rancho Del Oro neighborhoods in Oceanside CA and so were other new people posting comments. An example of this is when a women’s husband being a realtor sold a home in which one of the tenants did not want to leave the property. People were posting to get the man out of the house by force and if they wanted the neighbors would come and help to remove the unwanted tenant. I posted that they could not remove the, “squatter” because California has strong squatter’s rights legislation and laws to protect them in place. It’s technically called, as such, “squatter’s rights.” I posted some public information about groups that help squatters enforce these laws. I was threatened by some women on this site. There was also one post on homelessness in which neighbors were saying that they would go there and evict the people from public land. They told the women to call the cops and make up stories like the homeless were starting fires. A lot of offers to go kick people out or harass other people who bothered these nextdoor angels of mercy.
One person posted an aerial picture of a new Aldis that opened in our neighborhood. Next thing is the person came back and said they got a visit by the FBI to be careful of the nextdoor site. Yeah someone snitched on them or maybe the cops monitor this site as well.
So I researched the Nextdoor site and wow!! It’s no small operation it covers most if not all cities in California and every city posts on Nextdoor and have an agreement with Nextdoor, plus the police Department as well. So this site is for snitches who have nothing else to do but spy and harass their neighbors. Most of the Nextdoor comrades are women where I live or girly men. They think they are running some kind of PTA troop and if you do not agree with their ill comment they get really nasty and threatening very fast. I was greatly disappointed to know that most of my neighbors were not knowledgeably advanced or intellectually stimulating. I always felt I lived in a middle class neighborhood with educated and professional people but I was wrong. These were middle class thugs and not real sharp. The people from the outskirts were actually smarter but got kicked out as well.
We had an American flag pole next to our garage door and one wonderful neighbor shot the flag straight in the middle with I think was a bullet of fireworks. Whatever it was it burned right through the center. I definitely felt threatened by these Nextdoor comrades.
Back to the homeless post, I once again stated that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and later the US Supreme Court gave homeless protections in which the cities could not remove the homeless tents. Again they got angry and threaten me. Then there was a post of a Child sex offender and I posted Megan’s law for them to search my map the Child Sex Offenders in their area and address. It was a vicious attacks by the same women towards others who had just joined for the first time and myself. What I mean by threatened is that these women stated they would remove me from this site, so I did not care it meant nothing to me. Why would I want to lower my intelligence or standards? However, for two weeks or so a group of women two in a vehicle were driving up and down my street looking for me in two different vehicles two women per vehicle. Making frequent stops in front of my house and driveway. I just ignored them, but what the hell was that all about? Then it became threatening to me. I live in a small dead end street, so there is no through street traffic and a small hidden neighborhood. We all know each other and which vehicles belong to which houses.
I found this site to be frequented by people that are not very aware of their surrounding or the world around them. Very close minded and threatening. I asked the Nexdoor official site to remove my name, street location and city be removed from the Nextdoor site. I will also be contacting my local police and filing a report based on my experience with the Nextdoor forum.
I hardly, believe it will make a difference since my local city and every city in California has some sort of contractual agreement with the Nextdoor Nazi regime.
Do you own a Maltese dog? says
Sorry about ur scary neighbors!!! Do you own a Maltese dog? Do you have a Maltese dog? Did you post on Amazon that you were disappointed in the post op onsie not fitting your dog correctly and showed a pic of your poor dogs backside where they’ve been biting? If this is you I just wanted to politely let you know that in the pic it’s upside down. Still may be too small for your pup but try it with the oval stitching on the underside (that’s where u cut a hole if you have a male pup). If you are not the same person I’m sorry to have bothered you. Just felt bad for the poor Little girl Maltese. Amazon doesn’t let you reply to people on there and you had the exact unique spelling of Slvia Peter’s so I thought it might be you.
You posted some public information about groups that help squatters enforce these laws? Squatters rights is an oxymoron; they’re obviously already breaking the law for being where they’re squatting; state laws or not; it’s rewarding those who are doing illegal behavior. Then you whine about being called out? Heck, you’re encouraging bad and illegal behavior and when you or the government does it, society gets more of it and it spirals into decline. It’s akin to telling someone with bad intent where the neighbors hidden house keys are kept. There used to be standards of right and wrong and breaking into someone else’s home to live/squat or whatever term you want to use is clearly wrong. That’s not being “Nazi” it’s telling it like it is, or at least the way it should be.
Yeah I had Neighbors get very violent and started doing things to my yard.
I used it for a bit but became aware that my privacy or lack of it was to much at risk. You can’t post things with out someone wanting to argue with you. Then they have your address and real name. Stalkers can use it to get you. If your Black and in a mostly White area your the one they will and have already done something to you. I also don’t see how they can make money with the little bit of things they do to do so and it makes me think this is just another NSA site to invade your private life and gather info about you.
Kim Gerard says
June 10, 2018
Excellent article with an honest, thought out view of how Nextdoor is viewed by the normal, level-headed person that could be anyone’s next door neighbor!
Charter Oaks Best Nextdoor neighborhood in Covina, California
Eliza Quinones says
Problem neighbors seem like the only thing that would make this website a little dicey.
Julian Ferrin says
Hmm, I like that door bell camera. It is very useful for the exact reasons that you listed here. The social media app as a whole? I wouldn’t be as interested.
Joseph Stucky says
This one I would stay away from. At least for the length of time that I am in this neighborhood.
Jere Stafford says
Wasn’t there another type of app out there that allowed you to rate your friends and family? Wouldn’t this be similar to that?
Anita Ramirez says
Good neighbors are still good neighbors. Put an online forum to ANY topic and you are going to find the complainers.
Veronica Crawford says
It makes sense. Now you KNOW that others KNOW that you are on the app. I looked into this app a few years ago and it scared me to the point that I never thought about it again…..until reading this!