Illustration: Patrik Mollwing

Nextdoor Is Quietly Replacing the Small-Town Paper

While Facebook and Twitter get the scrutiny, Nextdoor is reshaping politics one neighborhood at a time

Will Oremus
Published in
18 min readJan 27, 2021

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One year ago, Delaware’s second-largest school district was in trouble. A failed referendum in 2019, on the heels of state funding cuts two years prior, had left it staring down a $10 million deficit that raised the specter of teacher layoffs, the end of sports and extracurriculars, and the demise of a promising magnet-school program. For a district already pummeled by an exodus of well-off families to private and charter schools — whose 14,000 students are roughly 75% nonwhite, 40% low-income, and more than 20% with special needs — it felt like the type of blow that could echo for generations.

Leaders and parent advocates in the district, the Christina School District in Newark, Del., had been banking on the referendum to pass. They knew that convincing residents to raise their own property taxes, often on behalf of kids other than their own, was never easy. But they had made what they thought was a compelling case through informational websites, word of mouth, and outreach to local media, the same strategy that had helped them pass a similar measure three years prior.

They never expected the campaign would also hinge, in part, on their ability to counter misinformation on Nextdoor, a platform best known for helping neighbors find a good plumber or a lost cat.

At its core, Nextdoor is an evolution of the neighborhood listserv for the social media age, a place to trade composting tips, offer babysitting services, or complain about the guy down the street who doesn’t clean up his dog’s poop. Like many neighborhood listservs, it also has increasingly well-documented issues with racial profiling, stereotyping of the homeless, and political ranting of various stripes, including QAnon.

But Nextdoor has gradually evolved into something bigger and more consequential than just a digital bulletin board: In many…

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