On August 4, Dawn Espedal needed to verify a Lakeside resident on the Nextdoor app.
“Please help me verify a new neighbor. Jane Smith [name changed for the story] on Riverview would like to join Nextdoor,” she posted, “does anyone here know her?”
The post garnered 72 replies and five likes — before it was abruptly closed.
Many were bothered by the way Espedal posted.
“I’m curious as to why someone needs to verify her identity…do you think she’s a scammer or [what]?” asked a neighbor from Lakeside. Another from Eucalyptus Hills asked “Why would someone want to join if they didn’t live in the area? That wouldn’t make much sense.”
Espedal said, “I am a lead here on Nextdoor and I don’t want someone spamming us if they don’t live in the area. There is probably over 20 names of people that haven’t been verified on our site [and] it was recommended that if I don’t know or they weren’t personally invited by someone to verify that they are who they say they are.”
Spammers are said to set up fake accounts (under aliases) on the app to find potential sellers of houses (so their real estate agent buddy gets first dibs), pyramid scheme-recruits — and empty houses to potentially burglarize. “Especially if someone said they needed a house sitter — because they were going on vacation,” Espedal said.
A lead on the Nextdoor app is equivalent to a cyber-watchdog for her/his neighborhood. They are given extra capabilities to help their neighborhood run with less difficulty. According to their website, the leads can adjust the neighborhood boundaries, promote other members to lead status, vote to remove messages that they believe violate Nextdoor guidelines and verify unverified members.
When a member is not verified, they cannot interact (via messaging, posting, or responding) with the neighbors until the lead removes the restriction.
Two days later, “Jane Smith,” the Nextdoor user in question, replied, “I promise i live on Riverview … and I’m not a scammer.”
Many of the neighbors jumped on the thread and sympathized with Jane Smith and called the public-verification embarrassing, insulting, and demeaning.
“I pulled Jane Smith’s name up in about 30 seconds,” said David Worsham Jr. “Maybe [Espedal] was just being lazy. In my opinion, if Dawn [Espedal] couldn’t find the info she was looking for, she should have contacted someone else privately if she was that worried about Jane Smith’s identity — not put her on blast for the whole neighborhood to see.”
Espedal is a 60-year-old Lakeside resident who is not a newbie to the internet and social media ways. She’s been using the web for 20 years and been on Facebook for seven years. “Someone that was a lead recommended that I become a lead since I seemed pretty active with the group,” she said.
The “Please help me verify a new [Jane Smith] neighbor” thread kept getting bumped to the top of the app that connected with over 4005 East County Nextdoor residents (from this writer’s Winter Garden residence point of view); including the North Magnolia neighborhoods all the way up to Wildcat Canyon.
“Every time someone comments on a thread, the posting goes to the top (which is the first thing that one sees when they open the app),” said Paul from Winter Garden. “And besides, if [Jane Smith is] already posting shit on the thread like, ‘Thank you it is insulting to me,’ — she’s already been verified, right?”
The website says that before you can participate on Nextdoor, you must verify the address used to create your account.
Worsham is a 37-year-old machinist and father of two girls. He’s been logging on to the Nextdoor app since early last year and stays connected to monitor the crime reporting. “I don’t know Jane Smith personally,” he said, “but a quick check on Facebook pulled up many family pics and I noticed she is friends with a couple [that] I know. This couple would not be friends with any kind of online scammer — that I can guarantee.”
There were some on the thread that backed up Espedal’s vetting approach, but the amount of negative comments were too much for her.
On August 10, Espedal closed down the thread and resigned as a Nextdoor lead. “I quit when people started questioning my abilities to decipher who is qualified to be on this site,” she said.
Worsham and another upset neighbor were then suggested as the next leads.
“If you want me as Lead, fine,” he commented. “The first thing I’m doing is dropping the ban-hammer on you for personal attacks. I don’t know who a few of you think you are, but you’re not FBI, CIA or whatever it is you think you are. I’ve noticed one thing about this [Nextdoor] site; there’s a lot of snobs here. Get over yourself, you are nobody special.”