Nextdoor has become a digital microcosm of America’s real-world problems.
Before the pandemic, Nextdoor was known for perhaps two things: absurd posts that broke free from the neighborhoods in which they emanated (such as the recent one about a feral peacock roaming around an Oakland, California, community), and its role in racial profiling and over-policing. Soon after the company announced a round of funding in 2015 that valued it at more than $1 billion, an article in Fusion reported that Black residents walking in neighborhoods were often photographed and posted on the site as suspicious, and crime reports often only had one description of the suspect: their race.
The pandemic has endangered the long-term health of the local businesses and neighborhoods that are Nextdoor’s customers and users, respectively, while Amazon’s market share and dominance in retail only grows and Facebook and Google dominate the information—and advertising—landscape. But perhaps even more crucially, as the pandemic rages on and questions of social inequality persist, it seems unclear whether our future will be one of random acts of generosity, as preached by Friar. Or if panopticism will rule the day, and neighborhoods will become prisons of our own making, powered by a stitched-together surveillance regime of doorbell cameras and accusatory social media posts.
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