The joy and shame of getting into an argument on Nextdoor

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I got into my first argument on Nextdoor last Sunday. I feel amazing, and ashamed.

Nextdoor, the popular neighborhood-based social network, was probably built to help neighbors connect. It’s more often used for petty arguments, coyote paranoia, and bizarre hot takes.

Follow @bestofnextdoor on Twitter for some of the app’s most notable interactions [source]

I always enjoyed watching the flame wars from afar, but then I got pulled into one. The context doesn’t matter, because even if you win a Nextdoor argument, you lose just by participating. In case you’re curious, here’s what happened.

One of my neighbors posted a vulgar anti-cat t-shirt in a post about cats wandering into his yard and killing bunnies.

“If you truly care about your cats… keep them out of my yard. I love the bunnies more,” he said.

Um, excuse me? Was this guy really threatening to commit felony animal cruelty against cats in order to stop them from participating in nature?

So I told him off. I asked him whether it was his low testosterone that caused him to threaten animals on the internet, or if it was his midlife crisis. Then I suggested that a therapist might be a better outlet for him than Nextdoor.

It was unnecessarily mean, and it felt great.

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I haven’t gotten into an argument on social media since Thanksgiving 2013 when my best friend’s mom took offense to my “Happy Native American Genocide Day” Facebook status. Since then, not Hillary, Bernie, Trump, Weinstein, or even regularly getting dragged on the Charlotte Agenda Facebook page could get me to argue on social media.

But something about a Nextdoor argument  is so different, so much harder to resist.

On Facebook, the arguments are more abstract. On Nextdoor, the arguments hit a lot closer to home. Literally.

I have tons of friends online who hate cats. Heck, I have friends online who kind of hate me, but they don’t realize it. When they say they want to cut federal assistance, they’re saying cut programs that fed me as a child. When they say end affirmative action, they’re saying end programs that help me afford college. But I never argue with them. My logic: no one’s opinion on Facebook or Twitter can actually affect me.

Opinions are harmless, but it doesn’t feel that way on Nextdoor. That’s what makes the arguments so hard to resist.

Nextdoor is what happens when the entire internet moves into your cul de sac. Suddenly, internet arguments get higher stakes.

This isn’t just a cat hater. This is cat hater who is nearby. This opinion, purely by proximity, might actually affect me. And my social media argument, purely by proximity, might actually improve my neighborhood.

So I spent my Sunday night defending kitties from some cat hater on Nextdoor. While typing every post, I felt amazing. I was making the neighborhood safer. I was protecting innocent animals from some crazy dude.

But once it was all over, I suddenly got a much clearer view of what had gone down. I’d spent my Sunday night, on Memorial Day weekend, hurling personal insults at not just a stranger, but my neighbor.

All the empowerment turned into shame. I didn’t feel like I’d improved my neighborhood. I felt like I’d made it worse.

Neighborhood apps, like most social media, don’t seem to actually bring us together. The anonymity, performance for likes, and temptation to hot take is bad enough with distant aunts and high school friends. We don’t need that in our communities. Our hoods need more face to face interaction.

Maybe improving our neighborhoods isn’t about winning arguments, but about spreading kindness.

Instead of logging onto Nextdoor, let’s start going next door.

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Dion Beary
| @hashtagdion
Columnist writing on Charlotte