One message on the web forum asked neighbors to be on the lookout for “two young African Americans, slim, baggy pants, early 20s.” Another warned of a “light skinned black female” walking her dog and talking on her cellphone.
“I don’t recognize her,” the post read. “Has anyone described any suspect of crime like her?”
These postings appeared on the Oakland forums of Nextdoor.com, a website intended to be a virtual neighborhood hangout for the tens of thousands of neighborhoods and hundreds of local police departments that use it to communicate with residents. The site’s chief executive and co-founder, Nirav Tolia, describes it as a place to find a babysitter, a plumber or a missing cat, and to have a “kind of ‘Leave It to Beaver’ chatter.”
But people also use it to report suspected crimes. And as Nextdoor has grown, users have complained that it has become a magnet for racial profiling, leading African-American and Latino residents to be seen as suspects in their own neighborhood.
The site plans to require users who wish to alert neighbors of suspicious activities or people to fill out a form with a description of clothing or some other identifying markers beyond race. In this way, the company says, it will prevent users from relying on race alone in their descriptions, reducing the likelihood that innocent neighbors are targeted unfairly.
The site already requires people to register using their real names and verifies their home addresses before approving their profiles, a policy that was meant in part to prevent the antagonistic posts that are common on social media.
“This isn’t just our issue, this is a broad societal issue that was playing out on Nextdoor,” Mr. Tolia said.
He added that “really egregious” racially charged posts represent a small fraction of the hundreds of thousands of posts that are up each day and are usually flagged by other users. “But this is a bigger issue than one guy sniping at his neighbor,” he said.
The complaints about Nextdoor have come from across the country, but have been loudest here in Oakland, where nearly a third of all households use the platform, according to the company. The city is 28 percent black, 26 percent white, 25 percent Latino and 17 percent Asian.
“What I saw was just shocking to me,” Monica Bien, who signed up for Nextdoor after moving to Oakland in 2014, said of the comments on the site.
Yeah, see, the problem is not how the people in the post are being described, the problem is that people are automatically assuming that black or brown men in their neighborhood must be suspicious.
God I despise the tech world at times.