Facebook tested “Neighborhoods” in Canada and is now rolling it out in four U.S. cities: Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Charlotte, North Carolina; Newark, New Jersey; and San Diego, California. The new feature will be playing catch-up with similar social apps, including Nextdoor (which had 50 percent annual growth in daily active users last year), Amazon’s Neighbors by Ring, and crime-tracking app Citizen. Facebook’s Neighborhoods, which asks the user to introduce himself and list interests, aims to personalize the user’s experiences and ads.
Reuters reports that, on Neighborhoods, “people can take roles like ‘socializer’ or ‘helper’ and their profile information populates a directory that even identifies local pets by name.” But the feature is likely to “contend with challenges that have bedeviled rival hyperlocal platforms, such as misinformation, racial profiling and privacy concerns.”
The company is already being scrutinized by lawmakers over its “Groups feature, which it says is used by more than 1.8 billion people every month,” and was identified by researchers as “a source of false claims and violent incitement ahead of the U.S. Capitol riot.”
“Online rhetoric can lead into offline antagonism and violence really quickly,” said Wilson Center global fellow Nina Jankowicz. “Facebook’s moderation of Groups leaves a lot to be desired.” Neighborhoods product manager Reid Patton said that his team “tried to learn from across Facebook products and beyond, and build an experience that does make people feel safe.”
Similar to other social apps, it “largely relies on multiple unpaid community moderators, offered the role by Facebook after it assesses how active they are in other communities and screens rule-breakers.” The company is “also developing moderator training on sensitive issues.” All users must be over 18 and “new accounts or repeat rule-violators are not allowed.” According to Patton, “Neighborhoods has no features involving law enforcement.”
Nextdoor chief executive Sarah Friar said Facebook’s Neighborhood “doesn’t really mean anything.” “From a broader perspective it certainly, I think, proves our point that local has never mattered more,” she added.
Vox reports Facebook announced that community moderators can now “automatically block certain people from commenting in conversations based on factors like how long they’ve been a member of the group … part of Facebook’s broader shift toward relying more on unpaid community admins, who get special privileges in exchange for managing the conversation in individual groups.”
Admins also have the new AI-powered Conflict Alert system aimed to “slow down” contentious conversations. The approach, it says, “largely resembles the way Nextdoor … has for years handled moderation.” The problem is that “Nextdoor’s model hasn’t really worked,” with its communities “plagued by a haphazard approach to misinformation and complaints of toxic fights between group members, along with accusations of biased and inconsistent community moderators.”
Facebook’s attempt to clone Nextdoor comes at a time when it has been accused of aping “apps or features made famous by its competitors, including TikTok, Snapchat, and Zoom.”
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