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Social media’s growth-at-all-costs mentality is damaging communities, says CEO of Nextdoor

October 13, 2021, 7:00 PM UTC

Social media needs to stop chasing growth at all costs, as algorithms that tailor content for users can feed online hostility that divides communities, said Sarah Friar, CEO of Nextdoor. 

Speaking on a panel at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, Friar said her platform that connects neighbors with one another is deliberately attempting to cool temperatures when monitoring and moderating posts.

“Some of the toughest discussions have been the tradeoff between engagement and growth versus slowing people down, and I don’t think enough platforms are doing that,” the CEO noted. “That growth-at-any-cost mentality is what is really damaging us in terms of areas like social media.”

For example, the phrase White Lives Matter is banned on the site. All Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter are not, however, but they are when used specifically as a retort to Black Lives Matter. 

She said Nextdoor has taken steps to curb instances of racial profiling on the platform.

“When you want to put something up on Nextdoor that begins to look like reporting a crime we actually start to explain, first of all, make sure it is really a crime. Walking in the neighborhood is not a crime,” Friar said. “How are you describing the person? Don’t use race, use clothing and so on, describe exactly what they’re doing.”

Just by doing that, Nextdoor, which operates in 11 countries and 280,000 neighborhoods globally, reduced instances of racial profiling by almost 70%, she said. 

The company also created a so-called kindness reminder that pops up when members are replying to posts and that acts as a preemptive content moderator. 

“Why wait until after the fact? We actually put something right in front of you right while you’re typing,” Friar said. “Over a third of all people rewrite what they’re saying. They stop with the ‘You moron, what the hell are you doing?’ and they say it a little bit more politely. Now that could [negatively] impact engagement.”

Friar then thanked Jotaka Eaddy, founder and CEO of Full Circle Strategies, a social impact consulting and strategy firm, for giving her the encouragement to enforce higher standards on the platform.

“We’re at an inflection point. Either we’re going to be a part of the solution or we’re going to help perpetuate the problem,” said Eaddy.  

This story has been updated to reflect the number of neighborhoods Next Door operates in.

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