Earlier this evening, I received an email from NextDoor–the private social network that the city is using as a “public outreach” platform for events like yesterday’s “town hall” with police chief Kathleen O’Toole–kicking me off the platform.
“While I understand your motives for sharing this in your recent blog post [ECB: Nope, you don’t], the fact still stands that Nextdoor is a private social network and the content within should remain as such,” NextDoor representative Juli (no last name given) wrote. “We ask that you please edit your blog post to remove the private information from Nextdoor.”
This letter, which I assume originated with a complaint from someone who was unhappy that I brought their comments to light outside the gated community of NextDoor, is particularly timely in light of SPD’s defense of O’Toole’s town hall yesterday. In tweets directed at me (@ericacbarnett), SPD insisted that NextDoor is open to all; today’s email makes clear that NextDoor is very much a private club that allows neighbors to say to each other things that they wouldn’t say publicly–much like a traditional country club. Or, say, a gated community. Residents of my neighborhood can’t see what residents of your neighborhood say, and non-NextDoor members (a group that includes anyone without a fixed address, and, now, me) can’t see any of it.
This matters, for a few reasons. First, NextDoor is an extremely useful source of information for city officials and members of the media about what residents of different neighborhoods are concerned about. More important, it matters because NextDoor complaints actually influence city policy.
You could see that happening in real time yesterday. After a barrage of questions from north-end homeowners about car prowls, mail thefts, and other property crimes (which drowned out a smaller handful of questions about gang violence, guns, and police brutality in neighborhoods like the Central District), O’Toole responded only to the questions about property crimes, and last night announced the creation of a special property crimes division that will focus “almost exclusively,” in her words, on the north end.
So I ask, again, why are Mayor Ed Murray, the entire Seattle City Council, and the Seattle Police Department using NextDoor–a private social network dominated by homeowners and the whiter, more privileged parts of the city–as a conduit to their constituents?