Nextdoor Cracks Down on Racial Profiling

Some say the site was being used for airing suspicions — generally about people of color — who were committing no crimes.

by Nanette Asimov, San Francisco Chronicle / May 12, 2016

(TNS) -- After finding itself an unlikely hub for racial fearmongering, social site Nextdoor.com says it is transforming into a model of respectful, neighborly conduct.

No longer will suspicious neighbors be able to post their fears about a stranger based on that person’s color or ethnicity, Nextdoor’s chief executive Nirav Tolia told Oakland city officials and neighborhood activists who have demanded that the company change the site to prevent racial profiling.

The 5-year-old San Francisco company is a free neighborhood bulletin board where locals trade tips about plumbers, gossip about new shops, and alert each other about break-ins. Tolia says users post 15 million messages a day across 98,000 neighborhoods nationwide.

In October, a group called Neighbors for Racial Justice said Nextdoor was also being used for something else: airing suspicions — generally about people of color — who were committing no crimes.

The group wanted Nextdoor to change how it let users post alerts, and got city officials involved. Nextdoor spent $16,000 on a lobbyist who set up meetings, many of which were difficult as people on all sides lost patience. Eventually, the company listened not only to the Racial Justice group, but also to the leadership group 100 Black Men and to the Oakland Police Department, which has been dealing with racial profiling problems of its own and had clues about what to do.

On Tuesday, Tolia appeared before the Life Enrichment Committee of the Oakland City Council and unveiled changes to its site that went live last month in the Bay Area and appear to be passing the test for tamping down racial profiling.

Site users can no longer warn people about “two suspicious African American men in a car,” for example. Tolia showed how the site now requires users to describe criminal behavior before describing suspects. It also prompts them to “provide a complete and helpful description” of a suspect and detects insensitive terms. Users must also specify whether they are reporting a crime or suspicious activity. And if users want to identify someone by race, they must also describe other attributes, such as the person’s clothing — a tip from police.

“We’re making progress, and we’re learning a lot,” said Tolia, adding that the company will continue refining the changes, and will go national by summer.

Since November, the site has also let users flag posts as “racial profiling,” which are removed.

“Your changes are truly groundbreaking,” said Vice Mayor Annie Campbell Washington, who chaired the meeting.

Shikira Porter of Neighbors for Racial Justice, who helped Nextdoor create the changes, agreed. “It’s huge,” she said. “It will allow people to ride bikes through a neighborhood without feeling like someone is thinking they’re up to something.”

©2016 the San Francisco Chronicle. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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