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Nextdoor Wants You To Be Less Racist

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Nextdoor, the online social network for your real life neighborhood, is home to a whole lot of missing pet posts, plumber requests and, occasionally, casual racism.

The site, which requires users to use their real names and verified addresses, allows neighbors who might never say hi IRL can engage in virtual, localized community. Whether it epitomizes the downfall of civilization or all that is great about the future depends on your personal views, but it's definitely one or the other. Either way, racism (and particularly racial profiling) has often reared its ugly head on Nextdoor, where descriptions of "dark-skinned" individuals loitering/looking in someone's car window/being regarded as generally suspicious sadly abound.

Now, the site has taken measures to curb racial profiling among its users with changes to their service that will go wide in the coming weeks. In an interview with NPR, Nextdoor CEO Nirav Tolia explained the company's pilot program, which has been in testing phases for the past few months in select neighborhoods.

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The site's Crime & Safety section, which has long hosted most of the racist posts, will feature a new form; if a user wants to include someone's race in a post about suspicious activity, they must also include at least two other descriptors, "e.g. Nike sneakers, blue jeans, crew cut, brunette," according to NPR.

Accusations of racism on Nextdoor reached a fever pitch last fall, with a slew of national press coverage centering on (but by no means limited to) incidents in Oakland. Tolia first addressed—and condemned—the issue in a blog post soon thereafter, writing that the site considered "profiling of any kind to be unacceptable—and the opposite of being neighborly."

But talk is cheap, especially for tech CEOs, who have taken a notoriously laissez-faire approach toward racism/bulling/trolls on most social networks. As Tolia told NPR, "they may write a blog post, they may make a donation to charity, something like that," but real efforts are few and far between, which is why Nextdoor's changes are especially welcome. The site first allowed users to flag posts they deemed as racial profiling back in January, and the new descriptor-requiring form comes in conjunction with a few other measures that will also soon go into effect sitewide:

An algorithm under development spot checks the summary of the suspicious activity for racially charged terms, as well as for length. If the description is too short, it is presumed to lack meaningful detail and is unacceptable. If a draft post violates the algorithm's rules or the form's mandatory fields, the user has to revise. Otherwise, it's not possible to post.

"Do I believe that a series of forms can stop people from being racist? Of course I don't. That would be a ridiculous statement," Tolia told NPR. But hopefully they can at least help filter out the most blatant examples and implicit biases.