In a week when Facebook is dominating the news, I’m surprised to find myself caught up in a personal drama about another social media platform called Nextdoor.
On the surface, the issue I’m about to describe would seem insignificant. But even though it doesn’t involve 24 million viewers and $2 million like John Stossel’s lawsuit against Facebook, it does have to do with shaping neighbor-to-neighbor dialogue in communities everywhere, which might be even more important in the long run. And it has to do with humor; namely, what we’re permitted to laugh at.
That’s up my alley, as I’m a humor writer who was already dismayed at what leftists have been doing to put the kibosh on laughs. The term “political correctness” came about to describe the way thoughts must be expressed to be acceptable in this day and time. It demands a lack of courage that pretty much spells death to comedy, which thrives not just on pushing the inside of the envelope but on ripping it open. Suffer through a few socially-approved evenings with Stephen Colbert or Trevor Noah and you’ll see immediately what I mean.
To set up my story, some months ago (hard to remember exactly), a man in my town who is on Nextdoor –- I’ll call him “Andy” –- started posting something he called “Laughter Of The Day.” The idea was that since we’re all dealing with covid, some of us stuck at home or even quarantined, he would send a few laughs in the way of corny “dad” jokes that, I assume, came mostly right out of an old joke book from the 1950s. They would be posted every week, and were always good for a groan, an eye-roll, or sometimes a big laugh out loud. Writing funny lines is my stock and trade --- you know that if you watch “In Case You Missed It” on the Governor’s TV show on TBN --- and I still loved his dated old wheezes.
His jokes were definitely NOT PC, though. There were “blonde” jokes (you know, about how dumb blondes are), “Little Johnny” jokes, jokes that made fun of everything. Some would call these jokes guilty pleasures, though to me they were as guilt-free as low-fat salad dressing.
Well, a few weeks ago, suddenly there were no more of Andy’s jokes. I thought he was probably just busy with other things. But this Sunday, somebody posted that he wondered if Andy was all right, as we hadn’t heard from him in a while. A number of neighbors chimed in, saying they were worried about him, too, and missed his jokes. But them someone wrote to say Andy was okay, just “in jail.” That means he’d been suspended from Nextdoor, totally locked out, not able to access the site at all. No reason given. More of Andy’s fans wrote in to post lots of those little red hearts, saying how much they loved Andy’s jokes and wanted him back.
My comment, though, was not little red hearts. It was more like, “What the hey? Andy doesn’t deserve to be ‘in jail.’ I want to know why Nextdoor did this. And I do not want to hear that it’s because of the jokes themselves. I do not want social media nannies telling us what we can and cannot laugh at.” I even said that, to me, “ND” stood for “Nanny Dearest.” (I had already been annoyed with ND for giving me screens asking, “Are you sure you want to publish this?” when I’d said something perfectly polite, accurate and well informed.)
On Monday, Andy was finally allowed (allowed!) to post again, and he put up another “Laughter Of The Day,” which I thought was his best ever.
Anyway, on Tuesday, when I tried to contact Andy through a PM (private message), I found that I myself couldn’t get into the site, at all. For most of the day, I was “locked out,” perhaps because of my diatribe against social media nanny-ism, but I don’t know for sure (because they don’t tell you). Later in the day, I was finally able to access the site and write to Andy. I suppose I’ll never know whether they locked me out deliberately or if it was just a weirdly coincidental computer glitch, but I don’t much care. This story is not about me, but rather what was done to Andy and his jokes.
Andy said he’d been working on setting up a group, just for the people who wanted to see his jokes. I told him this was the last straw for me and I was leaving Nextdoor. He said he was almost to that point himself.
I got this note from him on Tuesday:
“Laura. Just to let you know, I've already been reported for my post yesterday, over posting and for my Blonde jokes. So if they throw me in jail or delete me for good, it's been a pleasure.”
The worst thing about political correctness isn’t that easily-offended people don’t want to see the jokes --- it’s that they don’t want YOU to see the jokes. They don’t want YOU to be able to laugh at them.
I don’t know how far up the line the decision to take someone’s content off Nextdoor is made –- I would guess not very far –- but I went to their website to see who’s involved at the upper levels. To my surprise, Nextdoor is HUGE. Though it seems small and neighborly on your computer screen, it’s headed by people from all over the world. It’s based in San Francisco and, as of this March, is in 11 countries. It’s valued in the billions of dollars. Here’s a video I found called “The Story Of Nextdoor.”
It mentions problems arising from “moderators who are given significant power with very little training, if any, and can control the narrative of the town by censoring posts and making other people moderators with no accountability attached.” But the examples they give have to do specifically with racist content. The control they exert goes way beyond that.
Read some of the comments after the video, and you’ll see I'm not alone in saying Nextdoor is a place of censorship and progressive propaganda.
On their website, the “Neighborhood Vitality Advisory Board” includes “diverse academics and experts, in the fields of social psychology, equality and civic engagement.” Looking at the educational background and career focus of most of these participants, I imagine they’re far too “woke” to laugh at Andy’s “blonde” jokes. And I’ll bet they wouldn’t want you laughing at them, either.
I’ve had some good experiences with Nextdoor --- found some great service providers, and met someone who is now a dear friend. Social media wouldn’t be so pervasive in our lives if it didn’t provide benefits. But just like Facebook and Twitter, Nextdoor has anointed itself the arbiter of our conversations, controlling and shaping the narrative in ways both overt and subtle --- and that's nothing to laugh at.