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Banned Users Decry Nextdoor’s Lack of Transparency

Nextdoor is supposed to be a forum for discussing neighborhood issues, a place where users can gripe about the potholes not being fixed or the split-bin food scrap program. But some people believe it is devolving into a soapbox for toxic political rhetoric, an echo chamber that stymies political dissidents.

With its Spartan interface and lack of bells and whistles, Nextdoor feels like a 1990s forum, a sort of retro digital salon that appeals to Baby Boomers and older Gen Xers who want a pared-back experience, one without all the white noise of social media. While Nextdoor might not be a colossus like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Tik Tok, its influence in Santa Clara is nevertheless significant, especially among older voters.

District 6 Council Member Anthony Becker and former Santa Clara City Council District 1 candidate Harbir Bhatia know this all too well. Both were suspended from the site during the 2020 election. Both believe their political opponents were attempting to weaponize the site to silence them.

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“Nextdoor is actually, basically like mud. It is a swamp of negativity, very one-sided,” Bhatia said. “The people that were willing to get dirty in this swamp, they didn’t have any shame about their tactics.”

Nextdoor suspended Bhatia’s account for “bullying” and deleted her comments during the election last year, and it lifted Becker’s 14-day ban, also for “bullying and belittling others,” a day after the election.

But Becker and Bhatia see themselves as victims, apostates from commonly held political orthodoxy that has dominated local politics since Mayor Lisa Gillmor’s reign began. They believe they have been targeted by the very behavior of which they were accused. Becker said some people on the site just want to “stir the pot .”

Both said they were doing nothing more than defending themselves against attacks that propagated false information about them, something that is supposed to be against Nextdoor’s community guidelines.

“It is supposed to be a place for getting to know your neighbors,” Becker said. “It is a tool that is supposed to be getting people to get together, but it is a troll.”

Becker called the site “moderator friendly,” saying no one monitors how or why moderators opt to give users the boot. There is a mob, he said, that will rally against people with whom they disagree in a “coordinated and sustained way,” people who will intentionally post “provocative messages” to bait opponents into saying something they can latch onto and then go through with a “fine-toothed comb” to report opponents.

“Basically, they just want you to dig yourself a hole,” he said.

Bhatia’s political opponent Council Member Kathy Watanabe, is what Nextdoor calls, a “lead” for the Rivermark neighborhood. Bhatia says that exacerbated the problem when both women were vying for the District 1 Council seat in 2020.

In a text message to The Weekly, Watanabe said she has “not moderated anything on [Nextdoor] in close to 2 years as [she] felt it wasn’t appropriate” since her election, adding that she is “so busy” that she doesn’t have time for moderating as she did in the past. She declined to comment further.

However, Watanabe is still listed on the site as a “lead” for the neighborhood, which means she has the authority to moderate content there.

While Nextdoor is a great resource to connect with people who don’t use social media, Bhatia said there is little clarity surrounding who is banned and why. She said she is a strong believer in self-governance, but the oversight on Nextdoor is abysmal, echoing Becker’s assessment by calling the site “the wild, wild West” that allows those “promoting propaganda” to game the system — so long as they are in the political majority.

“There is no way that they should have the authority or delete your account … As a layman, it seems wrong because they are supposed to listen to the argument,” she said. “You have to have different layers of authority.”

Rob Jerdonek, a Santa Clara resident and member of the Rivermark Nextdoor group, said part of the problem with Nextdoor’s policy is transparency. When it bans users, those users likely have little to no idea why they are being banned — what policy they have supposedly broken — so they are unable to understand how to navigate the minefield of unacceptable discourse.

Political candidates who hold moderator status on Nextdoor should resign that status when running, he said. The Council should, he added, consider requiring council members to disclose any such positions they hold and, perhaps, pledge to resign that authority. Simply saying one is not moderating comments creates its own problem, Jerdonek said, likening the situation to a basketball game without a referee.

“It is not acceptable to claim you are not moderating but you keep the position as lead, because that just leads to chaos,” he said.

Jerdonek confirmed both Becker and Bhatia’s comments on the forum, agreeing with the assessment that the two were doing nothing more than defending themselves against accusations.

Another problem with enforcement, he said, is that Nextdoor removes all of a members’ postings if they are banned. He compared the practice to the way Big Brother rewrites history in “1984.”

“It is like you never existed,” Jerdonek said. “Removing an offending posting is one thing, but removing all posting is a little harsh. There is no justified reason for removing all their previous postings. That is part of the public record, and that is not a fair punishment for the crime.”

Bhatia said she sought insight from Nextdoor on why she was banned but got only terse responses. In an email obtained by The Weekly between Bhatia and Garrett Gonzales, neighborhood management operations manager at Nextdoor, Gonzales told Bhatia she was banned for commenting on the forum’s moderation, which is prohibited by Nextdoor’s guidelines.

He went on to write that “[Watanabe] can be a Lead if she’s moderating within the guidelines. At first glance, she hasn’t voted on any of your content, so it looks like she’s stayed completely out of it.”

The crux of the issue is semantics. How Nextdoor defines subjective terms such as “bullying,” “harassment,” “racism,” “hateful,” “misinformation” and “discrimination” is incredibly important. While Nextdoor is clear that content that violates its policy will get users banned, trying to pin down what those policies are getting at is like opening a Russian doll, with each layer containing another set of ill-defined terms.

For instance, the policy prohibits “racism,” “discrimination” and “hate speech.” However, examining the policies further, one finds a slew of other subjective terms such as “derogatory” or “dehumanizing terms” in defining what those terms mean. The best the policy does is provide examples, not definitions. While it allows promotion of Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate, it prohibits discussion of Blue/All Lives Matter if they are “used to diminish racial equity.”

While Nextdoor has updated its policy since the 2020 election, sources for this story said the way enforcement is trending does not bode well for this year’s election.

A representative from Nextdoor declined an interview for this story.

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9 Comments
  1. This is a sad article 2 years ago
    Reply

    This is such a sad “article.” Leads have no control over comments on NextDoor. They cannot edit comments. They cannot remove comments. They cannot block people from their account.

    When someone flags a post, all a lead can do is vote if they agree or disagree with the flag. It goes go many other leads to do the same. They rest is all in the hands of ND. So the claims you’ve made in this article are inaccurate and misleading. Do better than this when trying to report “news.”

  2. This is a sad article 2 years ago
    Reply

    This is such a sad “article.” Leads have no control over comments on NextDoor. They cannot edit comments. They cannot remove comments. They cannot block people from their account.
    When someone flags a post, all a lead can do is vote if they agree or disagree with the flag. It goes to many other leads to do the same. The rest is all in the hands of ND. So the claims you’ve made in this article are inaccurate and misleading. Do better than this when trying to report “news.”

  3. Srdjan Pantic 2 years ago
    Reply

    The article is accurate.

    Nextdoor “leads” are one voting on content.

    However, ban decisions are not made by leads. I was or still am lead, but I got banned from Nextdoor with no recourse and no explanation. That was the last thing I ever did with that platform. It is not worth my time. Especially for a position that is literally free labor.

  4. Jim 2 years ago
    Reply

    Only approved speech is approved.

  5. MA Weiss 1 year ago
    Reply

    It’s become apparent that ND is a leftist run site that over polices posts and bans anyone who is conservative.

    I’ve deleted my account there and I recommend everyone do the same. Boycott them.

    • Julie 7 months ago
      Reply

      I agree and will definitely delete my account. I got put in Nextdoor jail twice and wondered who in the world bans people who are not hostile but simply express an opinion or fact they don’t like.

  6. Ex-Lead 1 year ago
    Reply

    Ex Lead here. ND is full of radical leftist activists. My neighborhood lead died and we went without one for a year. When I first applied they ignored me. Then I changed my pronouns to “They/Them” and they made me Lead. I lost my account posting in a group. They go directly to corporate and bypass local moderators because they know San Francisco is pretty much Antifa. I said “I didn’t want to live in Sodom & Gomorrah” I got the boot for discrimination. Given I was criticizing the archs from the old Moloch Solomon temples or something like that. Yes actual architecture and old religions. That got me 30 days. Then it was because I posted that luggage thief trans guy nuclear Sam Britton and I was hit with discrimination again because I said he was “unfit”. The 3rd nail in the coffin was posting on a pedophile lesbian, who held the first drag queen even at a highschool and raped an immigrant girl, her wife turned her in, she was an anti capitalist. They banned me for life for describing her in her own words and posting her quotes from IG for “discrimination”. ND loves filth, pedos, criminals, and degenerates. If they know you are conservative they will work to kick you off. Yes baiting & then reporting. If you want to keep your account you can’t speak negatively or even say you disapprove of degenerates, mention biblical times that can be offensive to LGBTQIA pedo+ and criminals. Even homeless is now called “unhoused”. Oh and they store everything about you in databases. Every photo, every like, every reaction, gets indexed. “Likes gardening” “Small child in photo age 6” the AI does image to text. It’s a big data harvesting platform. All your words you ever typed get values assigned. They know what kind of personality you have. It’s an evil ex-google execs advanced tech platform.

  7. Justin 11 months ago
    Reply

    Nextdoor is an example of everything that is wrong with society today. You cannot speak your mind. You cannot have an open dialogue about anything that ruffles someone’s feathers. You cannot have an opinion that differs from anyone else because, if you do they will report you as being, any number of offensive tactics, nextdoor will remove your post or remind you about the importance of obeying their policies and possibly ban you for a couple weeks.
    Nextdoor doesn’t give any notice, they don’t give any explanation and they don’t give you any opportunity to defend yourself. For example, I made a very methodical and intelligent post about the homelessness issue in our community with an opportunity for people to give their ideas and thoughts and help solve issues that we are facing in our community.
    I was outed for public shaming, I was harassed by people I was treated poorly by people who are all assuming that I was putting homeless people down and I was being degrading to people but in fact I was simply pointing out what’s going on in our community and looking for ways that we could all help solve the problem instead of everyone complaining about it. The next day I went to log into my account and I was locked out for 2 weeks. After I was able to get back on next door, they prompted this screen for me to read about the importance of talking nicely to my neighbors and to have stimulating positive conversations and not talk about negative things. I had to check mark and digitally sign the agreement in order to be let back in.
    So since that time, I have had three random screens pop up reminding me again that bigotry and hatred will not be tolerated on next door. There’s no explanation as to why I’m receiving these messages. I am a gay male with a very open-minded heart who loves my community and I would never do anything to offend anyone or hurt anyone. I’m all about finding Community solutions and resources to solve issues. However, I was being sized up as a bigot and troublemaker yet next year will not give you any explanation of the specific situation and they remove any posts that you make without any warning.
    On next door, I was the target of someone stalking me and harassing me constantly through my phone number which I had posted for something I was selling. Next door refused to do anything to help me and they ended up locking my account out and told me that I was suspicious person and they wanted me to send a picture of me holding up my license in front of my house with my home address on the house so they can verify that I’m a human being.
    Yet the person who was harassing me was using a fake name and had no profile picture. Now I only assume he was using a fake name because I know all my neighbors and the address that he was using and the name he was using do not match up with who I know lives in that house.
    So I emailed next door back and I said listen, let’s do this, you send me a picture of you holding up your ID in front of your house with your home address so I can know that you are a legitimate and I’ll do the same for you. They ended up closing my account and would never respond to any of my future emails.
    And I assure you with all sincerity, none of my posts were offensive none of my posts were rude or just respectful or condescending to anyone in any way shape or form.
    It’s interesting that nobody regulates next door and nobody holds them accountable for their negligence on behalf of the communities and the damage that they cause through neighborhood relationships. I love my neighborhood and I love walking my neighborhood and I love being in my neighborhood but, after being on next door and seeing all the passive aggressiveness and the anger and the paranoia, there is no sense of community on next door, it’s all passive aggressive people who are afraid to step out of their front door and live real life. Since being on next door I look at everyone in my neighborhood differently now.
    This time around, I canceled my next-door membership and I will never look back.
    Nextdoor should be shut down and or regulated by the FCC.

  8. Daniel 2 weeks ago
    Reply

    Three conservatives in my political group were flagged by Nextdoor in 3 days. All are required to show ID to continue to post on this site. How is it legal that only those flagged by liberal leads are required to prove their identity and not everyone who signs up?

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