The East Bay Express has a terrific piece on the Next Door social media platform and some of the pitfalls that come with (1) a relatively closed social media platform and (2) anything dealing with people’s neighborhoods. I’ll be completely honest, one of the reasons I pulled back from my local Next Door message board was some of the discussions around “outsiders” that would make me super uncomfortable.
Although this is specific to Oakland neighborhoods, the types of discussions mentioned in the piece are not limited to Oakland neighborhoods, from the piece:
Over the last two years, their neighborhood has become overrun with racial profiling — but not by police, rather by mostly white residents incorrectly assuming that people of color who are walking, driving, hanging out, or living in the neighborhood are criminal suspects. These residents often don’t recognize that they may have long held racial prejudices or unconscious biases, but recently, they’ve been able to instantly broadcast their unsubstantiated suspicions to thousands of their neighbors with the click of a mouse.
On Nextdoor, people give away free furniture or fruit from their backyards. Users reunite lost dogs with their owners. Members organize community meetings and share tips about babysitters and plumbers. But under the “Crime and Safety” section of the site, the tone is much less neighborly. There, residents frequently post unsubstantiated “suspicious activity” warnings that result in calls to the police on Black citizens who have done nothing wrong. In recent months, people from across the city have shared with me Nextdoor posts labeling Black people as suspects simply for walking down the street, driving a car, or knocking on a door. Users have suggested that Black salesmen and mail carriers may be burglars. One Nextdoor member posted a photo of a young Black boy who failed to pick up dog poop and suggested that his neighbors call the police on him.
And, from first hand experience, this is true for people who speak up cautioning against blanket assumptions about unfamiliar faces:
In some Nextdoor groups, when people ask their neighbors to think twice before labeling someone suspicious, other users attack them for playing the “race card” and being the “political correctness police.”
The worst thing about this overly suspicious environment is that some people who may meet the definition in some people’s minds as suspicious have to change their own behavior in order to keep themselves out of danger. Which reminds me of stories I’ve read about “the Talk” that parents have with their kids (and here). It’s scary and depressing. More from the EBX piece:
After seeing so many posts warning of dangerous Black men, Thompson, who grew up in the projects of East Oakland and has lived in Glenview for seventeen years, said he stopped wearing hoodies. “It’s sad because people are not seeing individuals. They’re just seeing profiles and they’re acting on it,” he said. “Even though this is my community and my home, they just see a silhouette.”
Thompson, an executive coach and leadership trainer, used to go jogging at 5:30 a.m. in his neighborhood, but he said residents would clearly get scared of him, and eventually he decided it was only a matter of time before someone called the police on him. He never runs in his neighborhood anymore. “How come I have to change to make you comfortable? I have to show you that I’m not threatening as opposed to you making the assumption that based on my behavior, I haven’t posed a threat?” he said with a loud sigh.
The entire piece is really worth a read and important for anyone participating in social media like Next Door to be aware of when posting about suspicious activity. Data shows that rates of property crime and violent crime are at all time lows, but with social media and the amplification of people’s issues make it seem as though we are riding some crime wave and that we should be suspicious of everybody and anybody that “seems” suspicious however that is defined in that particular person’s mind.