After Nextdoor found itself embroiled  in controversy over racial profiling on neighborhood social networks and listservs in Oakland, the company set out to revise the process of posting in its crime and safety section.

An Oakland city councilor is saying the startup needs to go further with those changes, and has suggested city departments cease posting on the network if the company fails to fulfill the requests of a local activist group.

"I believe that the city condones behavior that's on these listservs by utilizing our staff in posting on this," Desley Brooks said during a meeting of a council committee earlier this month, in which she suggested the city send Nextdoor a letter asking the company instate a stricter process for users to report crimes and suspicious activity.

"As a city, we should say in that letter that we are not going to allow our city to continue to utilize either the listservs or the Nextdoor if they continue to engage in this," she said, explaining that city departments such as Oakland police, which posts on the site, would need to stop using it to make a statement. The earliest the city council would be able to vote on sending a letter is January. 

Nextdoor is now working on a new reporting form that it will test in Oakland, the company's head of communications Kelsey Grady said in a statement Tuesday. The company is slated to meet with the mayor's office and police department Wednesday. Nextdoor launched a partnership with Oakland last year, calling the relationship "especially meaningful" because so many staff lived in the Bay Area city.

Valued at $1.1 billion, the San Francisco-based startup has grown to include 85,000 neighborhoods throughout the United States since its launch in 2010. Crime & Safety comprises one of seven categories on the site, with sections that connect users to local businesses (such as Classifieds) presenting the greatest opportunity for monetization, according to Nextdoor.

In October, Bay Area alternative weekly East Bay Express published an expose detailing instances of racial profiling on neighborhood social networks and listservs, focusing on on Nextdoor. The company responded to complaints by meeting with Oakland activist group Neighbors for Racial Justice, and CEO Nirav Tolia said feedback from those meetings was incorporated into a new model for the site's crime and suspicious activity reporting feature.

The revamped reporting process, released last month in beta in parts of the Bay Area including Oakland, includes a new reminder to users to focus on behavior, and mentions that racial profiling is prohibited by Nextdoor's guidelines. Racial profiling has also been added as a new reason for flagging posts.

Members of Neighbors for Racial Justice say the changes are insufficient. The group wrote in an email to Nextdoor earlier this week that the changes gave them "a sense of encouragement that you are committed to checking the negative impacts of your platform" but "we are doubtful that these changes alone will reduce racial profiling on Nextdoor or impact the incessant harm inflicted on peoples of color."

"It just doesn't go far enough," Neighbors member Shikira Porter says of Nextdoor's recent changes.

The group originally requested a multi-part reporting process whereby a user would not be able to provide a physical description of an individual suspected of committing a crime or suspicious activity without first describing the activity. Moreover, physical descriptors would require more information than the perceived race of the person being described. This is process Brooks said she would like to see incorporated into Nextdoor. 

The idea is that the proposed process would work in a way similar to making a credit card payment -- to complete the process the user would need to input all requested components. In the case of a credit card payment, expiration date would be an example of a component that could not be left out; in the case of posting in the Crime & Safety section of Nextdoor, an example might be a description of the activity.

Porter and other members of the group say they have observed issues of racial profiling on other social media platforms. Their reason for focusing on Nextdoor stems in part from the popularity of the network. Nextdoor could put pressure on other social networks to adopt similar changes, said Porter. 

"We're wondering if Nextdoor would take the lead on this," she said. 

Tolia said in November that Nextdoor might make changes to the beta version depending on the response of users, before rolling changes out nationally. Grady said Tuesday, "We've been in regular contact with N4RJ (Neighbors for Racial Justice) and are aware of their feedback, which we are incorporating into the product."

This story is revised to correct the number of neighborhoods where Nextdoor has groups. 


Published on: Dec 9, 2015