The ongoing fight between the
Facebook for angry NIMBY dickheads social media network Nextdoor and local blogger Erica C. Barnett is bananas.
Nextdoor is a private social media network with groups for different neighborhoods, which you can only join if you can prove you live in that neighborhood. Nextdoor is regularly home to anti-homeless rhetoric from people who think no one else is looking. Then, last week, Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O'Toole held a virtual town hall about crime on Nextdoor. Barnett tweeted some of the anti-homeless garbage from the event and then wrote a blog post about it. (Example question: One commenter from Green Lake "wondered 'what is being done to get rid of the homeless' and 'why do they seem to have more rights than taxpayers do?'" Barnett wrote.)
In response, Nextdoor kicked her off the site.
By sharing things posted on the site, Barnett had violated its privacy rules, a Nextdoor representative told her, and would only be reinstated "once you've edited your blog post to remove this information and agree to adhere to this policy moving forward." (Former city council candidate Michael Maddux was temporarily kicked off for a similar reason.) Barnett's account was later reactivated, but she's still asking the question: Why is the city validating a private social media network "dominated by homeowners and the whiter, more privileged parts of the city?"
Yesterday, she got Mayor Ed Murray's response (emphasis mine):
“My first concerns, before your post went up, had already come up as a result of the Magnolia and Ballard lists, where some individuals were working themselves into a paranoid hysteria… and becoming more scared and more isolated,” Murray says. “I was already wondering, What the hell’s going on here? Why, suddenly, when we’re having crime stats going down in the city overall, are we seeing a huge uptick in people absolutely freaked out about crime? There are some indications that the complaints about crime may be more related to social media sites than the neighborhoods that actually have crime.”
“I think we need to ask ourselves whether this is the best tool to communicate about public safety,” Murray says, adding that he has asked his office “to dig into” whether Nextdoor’s closed-door policies violate public disclosure rules as well as whether the city will pull out of the partnership altogether.
“We need social media tools that build community, not drive people into a paranoid delusion because they think people, say, delivering mail are somehow” criminals, Murray says. “That is not how you build community.”
It's refreshing to see the mayor call NIMBYs on their shit like this, especially because the "hysteria" on Nextdoor is elevated to legitimacy by two things.
One: The city responds to the concerns posted on the site. From Barnett on February 18 after O'Toole's town hall:
You could see that happening in real time yesterday. After a barrage of questions from north-end homeowners about car prowls, mail thefts, and other property crimes (which drowned out a smaller handful of questions about gang violence, guns, and police brutality in neighborhoods like the Central District), O’Toole responded only to the questions about property crimes, and last night announced the creation of a special property crimes division that will focus “almost exclusively,” in her words, on the north end.
Two: The city has a partnership with Nextdoor, which is what allows the police department to interact with citizens on the site. Hiding those communications—which would normally be subject to public disclosure laws—from journalists is obviously problematic.
"Nextdoor wants to have it both ways," Barnett wrote on Monday, "To be a 'partner' with cities and conduit for city officials to share information with and solicit feedback from residents, and to be a private social media app where neighborhood residents can say things to each other that they wouldn’t want to say in a public forum. I maintain it can’t be both, and that it shouldn’t be either."