A tech company that offers users "a private social network for your neighborhood" has changed how it handles reports of criminal activity in order to avoid racial profiling. Nextdoor.com advertises itself as a place for neighbors to swap information about local news ("whether it’s finding a last-minute babysitter [or] hearing about a rash of car break-ins"), but complaints of racially charged posts have forced the company to rethink aspects of its site.
users can now flag racial profiling in posts
As of last month, Nextdoor is testing a system in which users reporting suspicious activities are asked to describe suspects' clothing "from head to toe," rather than relying on racial descriptions. "What details can I add that will help distinguish this person from other similar people?" asks the site's new crime reporting form. Users will also be shown a "mandatory warning screen before posting in crime and safety" and can flag posts they think are guilty of racial profiling.
In a blog post, Nextdoor acknowledged that the changes were in part due to the work of advocacy groups in Oakland, including Neighbors for Racial Justice (N4RJ) and 100 Black Men. In a report from The New York Times this week, members of N4RJ who signed up to Nextdoor said some of the reports on the site were "shocking."
A screenshot showing a neighborhood map on Nextdoor. (Image credit: Nextdoor)
"There is this automatic fear or suspicion of anyone different, and it was validated by all these neighbors," N4RJ member Monica Bien told the publication. "It was like the bias was so insidious, and somehow the online community allows them to say what they have been thinking all along but not saying."
"Nextdoor: In case your Facebook feed isn’t racist enough"
The Times cites posts from one Oakland community asking neighbors to look out for certain individuals in the most vague terms. One simply warned of a "light-skinned black female" walking her dog in the neighborhood while talking on her phone. "I don’t recognize her," said the post. "Has anyone described any suspect of crime like her?" And earlier report on Nextdoor.com from Fusion noted racial profiling in the same area, with one user describing the site thus: "Nextdoor: In case your Facebook feed isn’t racist enough."
Nextdoor itself says it's committed to ending racial profiling on its platform, but admits that this is an ongoing process. The recent changes to the site are being tested "across the Bay Area and Baltimore," before being released to the company's 98,000 neighborhoods later this year.