There goes the neighborhood.

Russia hacked Facebook. Empower Texans hijacked NextDoor in Plano.

Remember how NextDoor was once a great platform to post a lost pet or ask neighbors for recommendations for plumbers?  Has your neighborhood’s NextDoor turned into a toxic stew of ranting malcontents and tiresome political screeds?  Have you ever commented on a political thread in hopes of offering a more balanced perspective, only to be shouted down, or worse, met with name calling, threats or personal hate mail?  Or even had your account suspended, because you were “reported” by your neighbors? 

That’s because members of the Plano Citizens Coalition (formerly Plano Citizens Council) are following an aggressive and intentional strategy from the playbook of the far-right, Midland-based PAC, Empower Texans: flooding NextDoor with divisive, factually questionable and often racially-tinged political “information.” 

Texas Values Action is a right-wing, anti-LGBTQ organization with ties to Empower Texans.

A significant number of NextDoor leads in Plano are associated with the PCC.  Ditto for many of the most frequent posters on the site. They’re not there to communicate with their neighbors. They have a political agenda.  

As this public post indicates, PCC-affiliated leads in Plano are open about how they collude to  vote disagreeing members off the NextDoor island.  Shortly after this post, the Lead in question was removed.

NextDoor has a policy against electioneering, but understandably does not have the resources to carefully referee local political fights or understand Plano’s political factions and issues.  Leads have extra influence what gets posted and what gets deleted. When it’s a gray area, count on a PCC-backed moderator to lean toward deleting an unfavorable post but not a favorable one. They’ve mastered the finer points of NextDoor and know how to manipulate the platform so that their posts stay at the top of the feed. 

“When NextDoor was first introduced it was a great vehicle for getting to know your neighbors and sharing information,” as one Plano resident said. “Police and city use it as a way to get all kinds of information out to those of us who subscribe. But it gets hijacked during elections seasons by people who think they have the right answers and end up going off the deep end.”

Maybe you noticed on Easter Sunday, when many Leads posted an unintentionally funny 80s-style “Anchorman” video, at roughly the same time, “exposing” a non-scandal involving the mayor that no respectable media outlet has yet judged significant enough to cover in depth?  

Leads can also band together and get a dissenting neighbor kicked off NextDoor, at least temporarily. They communicate directly with other Leads in the city to share talking points, which they in turn share in their neighborhood feeds, often in unsettling lockstep. 

NextDoor Leads have the ability to segment messaging for certain populations. For example, one Lead shared details of an event rallying followers around an anti-apartment message, with instructions to make sure that residents in nearby apartments did NOT see the message. 

NextDoor is investigating this situation, because it has far-reaching implications that will likely affect other cities.   Plano is a poster child for NextDoor – one of the top 100 accounts and one of the heaviest users per capita for a city of any significant size.  Some 48% of Plano households have joined – making it the biggest portal for disseminating information in the city. Plano was also an early adopter for using the platform to get out information from the city to citizens.  The city and the Police Department use the platform regularly. Officer David Tilley gets national awards from NextDoor for his frequent and effective use of NextDoor to share safety information and crime updates.  If you want to see what happens when you get critical mass in a city for NextDoor – Plano’s the test market. 

The problem is that NextDoor is largely volunteer-moderated, so it’s ripe for exploitation. In the case of Plano,  our there’s a group of Leads with a political agenda.  Plano has basically ceded its communications to this for-profit, advertiser supported startup — and meanwhile citizens are getting fed misinformation promoted systematically by NextDoor Leads. associated with the PCC.  

Understand that NextDoor doesn’t work like Facebook. You don’t just post for your friends, who can unfollow or delete you if they hate your posts.  On NextDoor, members can report you and get your posts taken down and even your membership revoked.  PCC Leads and members have succeeded in deleting comments and posts that did NOT violate NextDoor guidelines but simply disagreed with their political stance. Meanwhile much more egregious posts promoting PCC folderol, that DID violate guidelines, stayed up.  

So basically you have an effective propaganda machine which the City of Plano tacitly endorses but has no control over.  

Our advice?

Spend a little time understanding NextDoor’s guidelines for political posts, and report your Lead for not following those guidelines. In the app, go to Help and type in Report a Lead. It brings you to the “Report a Member” page. At the bottom of the page there’s a Contact Us link. https://help.nextdoor.com/…/How-to-report-a-member…

Most importantly, don’t trust NextDoor for fair and balanced reporting or opinions.  Visit candidates’ websites and Facebook pages and see for yourself. Read newspaper endorsements and the candidate questionnaires provided by the League of Women Voters.  Find a better source of information about what’s really happening in Plano than NextDoor.