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NextdoorlogoA story about a town hall-style event featuring Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole on the private social network Nextdoor led to the reporter of that story having her Nextdoor account temporarily suspended.

On her personal website, Erica C. Barnett reported on the forum in which O’Toole heard complaints and took questions from Nextdoor members on issues related to property crime, homelessness, parking, mail theft and more. In order to access Nextdoor, users must have a verified address, so the network is essentially a private forum for residents of specific neighborhoods. The website Ars Technica reported that some content is intended for broader, city-wide access and the chief’s event fell into that category.

Barnett’s reporting last Thursday used comments from residents, and while they were directed at the city’s police chief, Nextdoor claimed they fell under the site’s privacy guidelines and therefore, users’ permission was required to print them elsewhere. As Barnett explained in a follow-up story, she received an email from a Nextdoor representative later that day, saying that she had violated the site’s terms by publishing what people were saying to each other on Nextdoor. She was asked to amend her story and remove users’ comments. When she did not, her account was suspended.

Barnett told Ars Technica that she believed the request to not publish comments from people engaged in dialogue with public officials was a violation of Washington state law.

Erica C. Barnett
Erica C. Barnett. (Via Facebook)

“This would be like demanding that TV cameras stop recording at public meetings when citizens are commenting,” Barnet said in the Ars story. “It is a clear violation of the state public disclosure act, which states that communications with public officials, like the police department, are public record, with exemptions for things like police report redactions.”

On Friday, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray personally commented in one of the threads Barnett was using on Facebook to discuss the entire situation. Barnett was particularly interested in learning more about the “partnership” between the City of Seattle and Nextdoor and said she was filing record requests to learn more.

“I think you raise important questions and I have requested a review,” Murray wrote Friday afternoon.

GeekWire reported in October 2014 about the partnership between Nextdoor and the city.

I have filed records requests with the city to determine the extent of their “partnership” with NextDoor, the private…

Posted by Erica C. Barnett on Friday, February 19, 2016


Friday evening, Barnett tweeted that her Nextdoor account had been reinstated.

Barnett tweeted throughout the weekend to her 5,000 followers, and @Nextdoor, about what was going on on the site, including the publication of Seattle City Council member Mike O’Brien’s address. Barnett said Nextdoor was encouraging the harassment of public officials by allowing O’Brien’s address to be posted by users who wanted a protest over homeless policy to be staged at his home.

On Monday, Nextdoor told GeekWire why Barnett’s account had been reinstated.

“After further review, Nextdoor reinstated Erica’s account,” a spokesperson said via email. “This was a unique circumstance where the posts were between residents and a public agency and our support team did not properly evaluate this case. We take our members’ privacy very seriously and appreciate everyone’s patience and understanding as we reviewed and learned from this matter.”

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