Following complaints about racial profiling on its platform, the popular neighborhood social media app Nextdoor has discontinued a feature that had allowed users to forward their crime and safety posts from within the app to law enforcement agencies.
The action to eliminate the feature, Forward to Police, which was introduced in 2016, was announced last week amid complaints from some users that Nextdoor was not being responsive to their concerns that racial profiling and racist remarks were prevalent on the app. Founded in 2010, the app is used in 11 countries — including the U.S. — and reportedly has millions of users, though it declines to give a figure.
“As part of our anti-racism work and our efforts to make Nextdoor a place where all neighbors feel welcome, we have been examining all aspects of our product — we had specifically been examining ‘Forward to Police’ for many months — and we made the decision to accelerate the deprecation of this feature,” a company spokeswoman said this week.
While Nextdoor did not say specifically why it had focused on Forward to Police in its anti-racism work, the spokeswoman did say, “With the removal of Forward to Police there are no features on Nextdoor that exist solely for members to message law enforcement agencies.”
On June 12, Joseph Porcelli, who leads Nextdoor’s global public agency, alerted the Minneapolis Police Department that the company was removing the feature from its app, Bloomberg CityLab reported. Mr. Porcelli cited “engagement metrics” as a reason for discontinuing the feature.
Despite the elimination of Forward to Police, users will still be able to directly message public agencies like police, fire and health departments through the Nextdoor app.
Nextdoor indicated that it had reduced “problematic posts” that involve racial profiling by 75 percent and that currently “less than 0.001 percent of all posts on Nextdoor are related to racial profiling.”
On May 31, before it removed the Forward to Police feature, Nextdoor shared on Twitter a graphic in support of Black Lives Matter. The statement prompted criticism online as some users have accused Nextdoor of censoring their Black Lives Matter posts. Nextdoor’s public statement came at a time when many companies were voicing support for Black Lives Matter as well as reckoning with their internal racial makeup and inequities.
Three users interviewed this week said they believed the app had sometimes fostered a negative atmosphere.
Nayeli Villalobos, who lives in Denver, Colo., said she had noticed users making assumptions about people on the app based on race.
“I do have a lot of neighbors who do post, ‘Saw a suspicious man walking by,’ and just because they’re black doesn’t mean they’re suspicious,” Ms. Villalobos said.
Mariesa Hayes, a Nextdoor user from Seal Beach, Calif., said that she had posted recently on the app about a “Black Lives Matter Peaceful March,” and that it was taken down.
“There’s a lot of people that, unfortunately, are stuck in their ways,” Ms. Hayes said. “I thought that there would be more people that were positive and on my side and stuff, but I don’t really feel that, at least not right now.”
Tina Layson, who lives in Boulder City, Nev., said she hadn’t used the app much in the last few weeks after some users denounced a community demonstration that was organized in response to the death of George Floyd in police custody.
“I’ve lived here for 30 years,” Ms. Layson said. “It’s been upsetting to see some of the comments people have made in reference to black people or just people of color in general.”
In a statement released on June 11, Sarah Friar, Nextdoor’s chief executive, apologized to black Nextdoor users who said “they do not feel welcome and respected” on the platform. That same day, Nextdoor sent an email to moderators on the app, telling them to permit discussions about Black Lives Matter, according to The Verge, which obtained the email.
According to its community guidelines Nextdoor prohibits discrimination and hate speech on its platform.
In addressing racial profiling, the app requires users to be detailed when posting about incidents, asking users to include descriptions beyond race, such as hair color, clothes and shoes.
Nextdoor said that it was taking a comprehensive approach to alter the ways in which users share safety-related posts on the app, and consulting with outside experts to provide feedback on product development.
“Just one incident is too many,” the spokeswoman said. “We remain committed to the hard work — listening to and learning from experts and our members and taking action to improve our product.”