The social website "NextDoor.com" is a platform where neighbors can discuss local issues. I first learned about it when my sister-in-law used it in her neighborhood to call out for a request to borrow a wheelchair, and a neighbor of hers (who she did not know) offered to lend us a wheelchair for free. It seemed like a nice idea. You have to be a neighborhood resident to participate.
Sometimes, debates that break out on NextDoor are very revealing of cultural issues in American society. I find, for example, that some people are very scared by shootings, and find it necessary to reply to a story by commenting with a few words like "Scary!" or "That's awful." While it is true that shootings are horrible, I don't feel the urge to post such messages, and I also note that few of these shootings are robberies or random. I view them more as sad and worrisome signs of social disfunction than as personally scary.
Yesterday there were over one hundred posts in just a few hours responding to a mother who said her small children, 2 and 5, were being harassed two little boys and using foul language in the neighborhood park. She threatened to call the police and post pictures of the boys on NextDoor if the parents did not reply to her message. This led to an outpouring of comments, most saying that one should never post pictures of minors on social media without permission, and criticism of the threat to call the police, given the problem of police violence. The mother replied with a very measured message, thanking the poster for letting them know of the problem, and saying that foul language and bad behavior was definitely not tolerated in their home and she and her husband would be talking to the boys and going to the park with them in the next couple of days. But she also pushed back at the threats to call the police and post the boys' pictures. Her reply was great; many of the comments were embarrassing, so I did not read most of them.
A few days earlier, a Black WashU student who lives in an apartment with other Black female students wrote to complain that neighbors had called the police on them, once for her roommate screaming loudly in frustration over something, and another time because they were making too much noise playing music at 10:30 pm, celebrating a birthday. The police had been very disrespectful and actually made the birthday girl cry. The student, very reasonably, asked that neighbors come over and talk to them before they called the police, as they did not mean to bother anyone, and police encounters for Blacks are fraught with danger. This led to a vigorous back and forth, as some said they should have known that quiet time in University City starts at 10 pm, others saying it is not right to expect people to confront neighbors since people have guns and you don't know how they might react. One writer accused the student of being privileged for being able-bodied, because she would not have been able to go up the stairs to the women's apartment to speak to them. When you read some of these exchanges, you can't help but feel that social media makes conflict and polarization worse, not better.
Today a dispute is brewing on my NextDoor feed over Covid and masks. Here is the first post:
Of course, this leads to replies like this:
Central West End West
B.B. • Central West End West
And on it goes. Social media provides an interesting insight into our culture. And it ain't pretty.
For the record, I do not believe it is necessary to wear a mask in the park. If the issue were not so politicized, and if we were not also arguing over whether it's necessary to wear masks in stores, for example, then we'd have a consensus based on available science. But clearly while we have lots of opinions, there is no agreement on what we should do. The CDC's advice is not entirely clear, though it seems to take the precautionary principle; it says in guidance on visiting parks:
Wear a mask as feasible. Masks are most essential in times when social distancing is difficult, including when hiking on trails that may be popular or crowded.
It's easy to urge everyone to wear a mask "as feasible," but the advice gets ignored if it does not seem to square with other advice we're given, such as the notion that people need to have close contact for 15 minutes or more to be at risk. If our Dear Leader were not intent on trying to "avoid panic" and denying the seriousness of the pandemic, then maybe such divisions would not be so sharp.