We know NextDoor sucks — it’s like an entire room of preschoolers waking up with emergent delirium after getting routine ear tubes ??  — but it sucks slightly less if you keep the following in mind:

Many of the people who pile into local housing threads coordinate their responses on a listserv together.

Have you ever wondered why the same Toms, Dicks, and Harrys Lindas show up within minutes of each other to rattle the chains of anyone who raises a slightly different point of view? It’s not because they spend each and every minute organically waiting for comments to appear on the greatness that is NextDoor!

Many of them are on a gaggle.email listserv together that’s run by a local organization with a PAC called CHALT. The listserv(s) – there are several – encourages responses in these threads — and notes when responses are needed. (? to everyone on the listserv(s) reading this!)

These threads are also then used as a recruitment vehicle for the listservs, creating a ghoulish cycle. Say something particularly horrific about housing? You get an invite to a private NextDoor group run by a CHALT leader where misinformation is frequently posted. Say something foul at a council meeting? That’s your listserv invite!

As a thread ages and receives more comments, it’s seen by a wider geographic area.

Many of the folks who enjoy a good early Sunday morning post-church troll-down don’t live within the boundaries of Chapel Hill and/or Carrboro. NextDoor shows these posts to a pretty wide geographic area if they get popular. More shitty comments? The algorithm rewards that with more eyeballs, and so it goes.

No one reads the posted article.

NextDoor comment threads sometimes look like a braided trail on a sewage easement — full of holes and mud-slinging. But our analytics show that very, very few people actually read the article. This is apparent if you read the comments – they’re often attacks on completely different things that derail the original intent. That’s on purpose.

Alternative points of view are reported as spam.

We had a hunch that our comments and posts encouraging things like greenways and more diverse housing types were being recommended for deletion en masse. This was confirmed when we received a message accidentally meant for a moderator asking to have our comments deleted. If you only see one point of view on NextDoor, it may be because there’s coordinated brigading happening that eliminates other points of view.

Getting into back-and-forths is not the best use of time.

We understand why seeing some of the vitriol on NextDoor makes you want to get in there and get into a debate for hours. But it’s the same seven or eight people with plenty of time on their hands, and we’re not going to change their minds. Instead, we try to fact check and/or leave a helpful link with accurate, well-sourced information and then leave. Engaging feeds trolls and shows posts to more trolls. Leaving one fact-filled post can help counter the trolls.

Despite its name, NextDoor feels like it’s on a different planet. Understanding how it works and how and when to comment there can help advocates who imagine a different and more welcoming Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

Melody Kramer is a Peabody-award winning journalist whose work has appeared on NPR and member stations around the country, as well as in publications ranging from National Geographic to Esquire Magazine....