Just as Twitter has become the defacto platform for breaking political news where people weigh in with their opinions, the social networking site Nextdoor has become a hotbed where neighbors voice their opinions about all things housing-related, says a recent story in the Mercury News.
The intensity of the online debates on Nextdoor have even made their way to the offices of City Hall, where people are protesting, getting petitions signed, and working to influence elections.
Started in San Francisco in 2011, Nextdoor’s philosophy was “when neighbors start talking, good things happen.” But lately, in the Bay Area at least, it’s also where arguments happen.
When the site was formed, users, who are grouped into neighborhoods, posted about topics such as garage sales, break-ins, baby sitters, landscapers, and more.
But today, the platform has expanded to cover more controversial topics, like the Bay Area housing debate. Topics include discussions about new developments and how to solve the Bay Area’s housing crisis. City council members and even mayors are now joining the discussion and groups are being formed for political action.
And just as what happens on Twitter over politics, fights break out.
Issues like the plan to turn Cupertino’s Vallco Mall into a massive housing, office, and shopping complex have caused eruptions on the online platform. So too has been Google’s plans to build a new campus in San Jose, which could bring more than 25,000 new jobs, but impact the tight housing market. In addition, neighbors in Oakland have had heated online debates about homeless encampments and the proximity to new high-rise apartments
Nextdoor has struggled with whether to just let users have their say on the platform or if they should monitor conversations more. Attacking and insulting neighbors is not allowed per the platform’s user guidelines. Nor is public shaming or political campaigning. But as with all social media platforms, rules get broken – often.
Bob Cushman, a leader for the Foster City Residents for Responsible Development, which is pro-slow-growth, was active on Nextdoor until he was kicked off the platform over accusations that he used it to campaign.“Unfortunately Nextdoor has not worked out to be a very satisfactory tool either for people who are pro-housing or people who want to set up a breather from housing,” said Cushman. “It’s not monitored very well. It’s turned into a very toxic kind of site.”
Steve Wymer, a company spokesman for Nextdoor, says the housing debate is the type of conversation that the company does want neighbors to have on its platform because it’s a hyper-local issue.
However, especially in the Bay Area, the housing issue is an intensely emotional topic.
Nextdoor has even gone to the length of hiring the nonprofit American Leadership Forum to create a video series that teaches people how to have civil discourse.In Foster City, debates on Nextdoor became heated over the proposed Pilgrim Triton project, which will create almost 100 new homes. An online battle ensued where pro-development and slow-growth residents began insulting each other, and two moderators, on each side of the argument, deleted posts and banned multiple members.
Evan Adams, a neighbor who distributes floor coverings told a story of logging onto the platform and seeing an unsolicited photo of himself that someone had posted. In the photo, he was talking to his councilman Herb Perez at the local Starbucks. The neighbor who posted the image accused Adams of making pro-housing comments on behalf of Perez.
The discussions that occur on Nextdoor are having real-world impacts. Liang Chao, a vocal critic of the Vallco Mall redevelopment project, won a city council seat in Cupertino after many discussions on Nextdoor. “A lot of people actually got to know me through my postings,” said Chao. However, she said that today she no longer uses the platform because discussions have become so divisive.
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