Nextdoor is an online social hub for people to connect with others in the same neighborhood or geographical area as them. In addition to discussing local issues, like garbage cleanup days or recent crimes, members may also exchange goods or services. Whether you want to connect with your neighbors after just moving into the area, find out what last night’s sirens were all about, or see if someone nearby is selling, say, a grill, Nextdoor is a useful platform.
Unfortunately for Nextdoor supporters, the platform hasn’t been without its troubles. In this article, we’re going to talk about the class-action lawsuit brought against Nextdoor, as well as another notable lawsuit. We’ll also discuss Nextdoor’s guidelines and how the user-guided nature of the platform is exactly why it can be so problematic. Lastly, we’ll let you know about the laws governing who is held liable when people post their own thoughts and opinions online.
The Class Action Lawsuit Against Nextdoor and Two Members
Two officials from the Bloomfield Township, Leo Savoie (township supervisor) and Brian Kepes (treasurer), brought a lawsuit against Nextdoor, as well as against Kathleen Norton-Schock (the local administrator) and Val Murray, two users of Nextdoor. Savoie and Kepes acted as part of a class-action suit for Nextdoor members.
The suit alleged that Nextdoor let Murray monopolize posting boards with false postings in order to insult, intimidate and bully other members and locals. It was also alleged that Murray used Nextdoor to spread incorrect information in order to defeat a ballot initiative. Moreover, the lawsuit alleged that Norton-Schock did not follow Nextdoor guidelines about monitoring postings or banning Murray from the site (although Neighborhood Leads don’t have the authority to ban accounts, which will get into more later on).
The lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice by Judge Dan O’Brien of the Oakland County Circuit Court. Brian Wassom from the Warner Norcross and Judd office in Southfield filed for the lawsuit to be dismissed, claiming that it violated the First Amendment.
What’s a Class Action Lawsuit?
A class-action lawsuit allows a plaintiff or plaintiffs to file and prosecute a lawsuit on behalf of a bigger group, called a “class.” Creating a class action lawsuit means that each person impacted by the defendant does not have to file their own lawsuit, which would be unmanageable for the court.
What Does “Dismissed With Prejudice” Mean?
When a court dismisses a lawsuit with prejudice, that means that the plaintiff can’t refile that claim in that court.
The Arthur West Lawsuit Against Nextdoor
Arthur West from Olympia, Washington, an active on Nextdoor user, was kicked off the platform, seemingly because people did not like what he had to say. West sued Nextdoor and the CEO, and his argument used a precedent sent by the Packingham v. North Carolina sex offender case, which ruled that the government can’t block a person’s access to social media. The idea is that social media is like a modern-day town square, which you cannot legally restrict people from. The lawsuit also claimed that since Nextdoor partners with government agencies (like law enforcement), which makes it a quasi-public body, it cannot restrict people from using it. The outcome of the case is unknown.
Nextdoor’s Rules Regarding Behavior
What Happens When a Member Violates the Guidelines?
If a Nextdoor user feels that someone on the site is being abusive to others or is in some way violating the platform’s guidelines, they can report that member. Depending on what’s being reported, the report may go to either Nextdoor staff or to a Neighborhood Lead (more on that in a second).
When guidelines are violated, Nextdoor or a Neighborhood Lead may do one (or more) of the following:
- Remove the concerning messages
- Warn the member
- Give the member read-only access, meaning they can’t post messages
- Disable the member’s account (temporarily or permanently)
- Ban the member permanently
Note that while Leads are able to close discussions, they cannot do anything that affects a member account, like changing their access; only Nextdoor staff can do that.
What is a Neighborhood Lead?
A Neighborhood Lead is a Nextdoor member who has extra functionality for their account. For example, they can remove messages that they find are errors or violate the guidelines. They can also appoint other Nextdoor users to become Leads.
Otherwise, a Neighborhood Lead is pretty much a regular Nextdoor user. They live in the neighborhood and do not work for Nextdoor. They also can’t see additional information about a user that’s not available to regular Nextdoor members.
A Neighborhood Lead is automatically selected by Nextdoor if they’re the person who started up Nextdoor in their neighborhood or if they invited neighbors to join the community shortly after it was created. Nextdoor has the ability to appoint additional Leads and to remove the Neighborhood Lead functionality from a member’s account.
Have There Been Any Legal Issues Regarding Leads?
According to Nextdoor, “We are not aware of any legal precedents or opinions involving Nextdoor members acting as Leads. As of the date of this help article, no court has ever adjudicated a dispute involving a Nextdoor Lead’s handling of another member’s messages.” However, there are plenty of legal issues surrounding content that’s published online on websites like Nextdoor that allow users to create messages.
Neighborhood Watch: Nextdoor’s Most Controversial Aspect
Some of Nextdoor’s biggest issues are related to the fact that it’s self-governed – i.e., regular users turned Neighborhood Leads have the ability to remove posts and discussions. But the Leads don’t have any type of formal training, so it’s up to their judgment what to remove and what to keep – and if it never goes beyond the Leads and is brought to Nextdoor staff attention, they sort of have the final say, unofficially. Moreover, Nextdoor’s guidelines are somewhat vague about what is and aren’t acceptable, as simply being a good neighbor can be interpreted differently by different people.
Moving away from lead-related problems, there are also concerns about what members can – and do – post on Nextdoor. For example, you may see members posting pictures of people they think look suspicious, but what if those are simply people who just moved into the neighborhood and aren’t yet recognizable? Users are also known to post clips from their front door cameras. While not necessarily illegal, these types of posts can do anything from cause unnecessary panic to wrongly accuse someone of a suspicious activity or crime they didn’t commit, and it can also heavily influence how locals view certain people in their neighborhood.
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act
This federal law deals with defamatory and otherwise problematic material that’s posted by users on a website. Overall, the owner or operator of the site is protected and cannot be held liable for what members or users post. The provider of the site should not be treated as though they created or published the comments of a user of the site.
What Type of Content Does This Include?
There are different types of information considered to be from a content provider and not the owner or operator of the website, including:
- Guest blog entries
- RSS feed-provided information
- Tips sent via email
Again, if defamatory statements are included in the above types of user-provided content, the owner/operator of the site or platform cannot be held liable.
What About if a Business is Negatively Reviewed?
Just like the other content examples in the above section, the owner or operator of a website is not liable for a negative review posted by a user. Also, freedom of speech rights protect customers who want to share their (negative) opinions online about a business, and it’s rare for a business to win a lawsuit against such a customer.
Plus, a lawsuit can draw attention to the negative review and possibly even spark more unhappy customers to speak up, which can be more detrimental for the business.
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: How do I complain about a Nextdoor Lead?
Answer: Whether you want to report a regular member or a Neighborhood Lead, you can start with the help article here. There are step-by-step instructions for how to report a user, whether you’re using the website or an iPhone or Android device.
Question: What happens if a Lead flags a post?
Answer: When a Lead reports a Nextdoor post, it’s removed from that neighborhood’s newsfeed. However, if the post is from a Nearby Neighborhood, it will stay in those newsfeeds until one of that neighborhood’s Leads reports it.
Question: How are Nextdoor Leads chosen?
Answer: Most of the time, a Neighborhood Lead is appointed automatically if they’re the person who created the neighborhood and/or invited members to join when it was first created. A Lead may also have been appointed by another Lead or chosen by Nextdoor if there weren’t enough Leads for that neighborhood.
While Nextdoor is a useful social networking app for many users, it’s not without its faults – or its history of legal trouble.
There are a lot of questions about what’s acceptable behavior on Nextdoor, who’s responsible for monitoring that behavior (when users themselves are possibly breaking the unofficial rules), and how much information should be shared about the goings-on in your neighborhood.
Self-policing of Nextdoor is what the platform is built on, to an extent, but it’s also the website’s feature that sparks the most controversy.
Lawsuits brought against Nextdoor haven’t been altogether successful, but it’s helpful for the public to know of problems that users have had with the platform in the past. This information makes it possible to make an informed decision about whether or not it’s right for you to use Nextdoor.
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