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Nextdoor faces criticism from volunteer moderators over its support of Black Lives Matter (June 2020)

Volunteer moderators, bringing their political viewpoints into moderation discussions, review and remove posts related to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Summary: Nextdoor is the local “neighborhood-focused” social network, which allows for hyper-local communication within a neighborhood. The system works by having volunteer moderators from each neighborhood, known as “leads.” For many years, Nextdoor has faced accusations of perpetuating racial stereotyping from people using the platform to report sightings of black men and women in their neighborhood as somehow “suspicious.”

With the various Black Lives Matter protests spreading around the country following the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota, many companies have put out messages of support for the Black Lives Matter movement, including Nextdoor, who put up a short blog post entitled Black Lives Matter, with a few links to various groups supporting the movement.

This happened around the same time that the site started facing criticism because users posting support of the Black Lives Matter movement were finding their own posts being removed as leads were claiming that posts about the protests violated guidelines not to discuss “national and state” political issues (even when the posts were about local protests).

Meanwhile, many of the “leads” were using their own forum to complain about the company’s public support for Black Lives Matter at the same time that they believed discussing such issues on the platform violated rules. The ensuing discussion (which in many ways mimicked the wider national discussion) highlighted how frequently local leads are bringing their own political viewpoints into their moderation decisions.

When the company also added posts to local Nextdoor communities that highlighted black-owned businesses, as part of its support for Black Lives Matter, it again angered some leads who felt that such posts violated the rules they had been told to enforce.

Decisions to be made by Nextdoor:

  • When there are national conversations around movements like Black Lives Matter, when is it appropriate to take a public stand? How will that stand be perceived by users and by local moderators?
  • If the company is taking a stand on an issue like Black Lives Matter, should it then make it clear that related content should be kept on the platform -- even if some moderators believe it violates other guidelines?
  • How much leeway and power should local, volunteer moderators have regarding what content is on the platform?
  • How much communication and transparency should there be with those local moderators?
  • How involved should the company get with regards to implicit or unconscious bias that may come from non-employee, volunteer moderators?
  • Is it feasible to have a rule that suggests that local communities should not be a platform for discussing state or national political issues?  How does that rule play out when those “national or state” issues also involve local activism?

Questions and policy implications to consider:

  • When issues of national importance, such as civil rights, come to the forefront of the public discussion, there is often the likelihood of them becoming politically divisive. When is it important to take a stand despite this, and how should any messaging be handled -- especially in cases where some staff or volunteers may feel otherwise?
  • Issues of race are particularly controversial to some, and yet vitally important. How should companies handle these questions and debates?
  • Using volunteer moderators to help moderate targeted niche communities has obvious benefits, but how might historical bias and prejudice manifest itself in doing so?

Resolution: Nextdoor has continued to support the Black Lives Matter movement, and Gordon Strause, the company’s director of community, went onto the forum where some leads were complaining to explain the company’s position and why they were supporting Black Lives Matter, and to push back against those who argued that the movement itself was discriminatory, while also highlighting how there were a variety of perspectives, and there was value in learning about other viewpoints:

In an attempt to quell the furor, Gordon Strause, the company’s director of community, wrote on the leads forum on Monday from his “own perspective” and not “on behalf of Nextdoor.” Noting that “it’s of course absolutely true all live [sic] matters, whether they are black, white, brown, blue, or any other color,” he explained his views on Black Lives Matter.

“The goal of the BLM movement, at least as I understand it, is simply to make the point that black lives matter as much as any other lives but too often in America that isn’t actually what happens in practice and this dynamic needs to change,” he wrote.

“While no one that I know or respect believes that looting helps anything, there are folks that I respect (including people in my own family) who believe that riots may be a necessary step to help the country finally understand the scale of injustice that has been happening," he wrote, "while other folks I respect believe that the riots will be counterproductive and will only undermine the goals they are meant to achieve.” Strause then went on to recommend a book from psychologist Jonathan Haidt and urged leads “to listen and not to judge.”

“While Nextdoor is generally not the place for discussions of national issues, I think it’s going to [sic] hard to restrain those discussions in the coming days without being perceived as taking sides. So rather than trying to do so, I would recommend that Leads instead focus on a different goal: keeping the discussions as civil and issue focused (rather than personality focused) as possible,” he wrote.

Written by The Copia Institute, July 2020

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