The Most Important Social Media Platform Nobody Talks About
Nextdoor is becoming increasingly influential in local housing politics across the country in ways largely going unnoticed.
For the last couple of months, I’ve been working on a feature story about Nextdoor, the hyperlocal social media company. Nextdoor is a platform of contradictions. It says it wants to cultivate a kinder, more neighborly world, but anyone who uses it can instantly see it is the id of 1980s local news broadcasts, a hotbed for low-key racism, anti-homeless rhetoric, and crime hysteria.
These aspects of Nextdoor are no secret. The company spends a lot of time and energy trying to combat it. I was interested in a different question. I had been hearing from many colleagues, friends, and sources that housing politics was taking over their local Nextdoor. I wanted to find out more.
Nextdoor works in a peculiar way for a large social media company. Users can only see posts in their local neighborhood. There is no way to join a Nextdoor from a different city, scroll, post, and then hop back to the one you live in. So I reached out to housing activists on both sides of the issue in about a dozen cities across the country. Most said they were active on Nextdoor, some agreed to talk to me about it in-depth for the story.
While reporting the story, I learned about even more contradictions inherent to the Nextdoor platform. The company wants people to talk about local politics, including housing issues, but not in a way that is hostile. The company wants people to use the platform for political organization but not to campaign for candidates. The company wants people to discuss the important issues in their neighborhood that affect their everyday lives but do so in a civil fashion. And the company wants local volunteer moderators to police the tenor of the conversations without the power to suspend or ban specific accounts.
The end result is predictable. Housing discourse is taking over Nextdoors around the country, particularly in places facing housing crises or controversial rezoning proposals. Rather than reflecting the local population, Nextdoors look a lot more like the inequities of the local zoning commission public comment period or community feedback process which I have previously written about in detail. And it is not just arguing for arguing’s sake, although there is definitely a lot of that. Nextdoor is becoming a key recruiting tool for local activists and future candidates for local office in ways that actively distort the local political landscape. You can read all about it here.
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