What follows is a post I felt compelled to write a few days ago, Friday the 27th of October 2023, in our local Nextdoor community of Marin County, California, the northern anchor point of the Golden Gate Bridge. Incredibly, it was deleted about 50 minutes after posting, and despite positive reactions and comments. I tried a further two times to post it, and both times, it was again promptly deleted. And now I’ve decided to post it here, if not for my local neighbors, then for the public in general.
Happy Friday! So this is a weird thing to post, and I suspect it will get deleted, but I think it’s worth trying.
I’ve had a few (2 ≤ x ≤ 10) people reach out to me over the last few months complaining about their content being deleted on Nextdoor. Although I was a moderator in a prior neighborhood, I’m not a moderator here, so I find this fascinating. Regardless, every time I’ve inquired about the nature of the deleted content, I find nothing wrong whatsoever — the content is neither offensive nor otherwise inappropriate — except that the content is indeed always of an alternative opinion to the majority view.
I don’t think there seriously needs to be a discussion on why silencing different opinions is inappropriate, not to mention counterproductive; but it does raise the question of why this is happening in the first place. I too, have had several posts deleted here. Call it “content moderation” or “censorship,” either way, it is inappropriate to delete somebody’s content merely because you disagree with the opinion. As a practical matter, this means that when you (moderators) are asked to cast your vote and decide on whether something should be deleted, you should not take into consideration your personal, subjective views on the topic.
Again, I’m not a moderator in this neighborhood, but somebody needs to come out and say it. Frankly, to whomever the moderators are, you should be doing this; not me.
It’s a beautiful thing to live in a society with different opinions and not shoot down each other’s differences. The echo chamber of Marin is not in fact a healthy thing as it amplifies not only the good qualities but also the bad; by censoring those with different views, we eliminate the checks and balances inherent in a society that not only tolerates, but indeed encourages open discourse, not merely when views are unanimous, but especially when they are not.
I’ve often shared my thoughts and experiences from our two brief years in New England (at least one post of which was inexplicably deleted too). Despite having lived in a mostly liberal area, our neighborhood there offered something I’d never experienced in Marin: a mix of farmers, gardeners, PhDs, CEOs, plumbers, engineers, and even the family of a local pool service company. Also, in the same town, police officers, fire fighters, school teachers, and restaurant workers. They — we — all lived and worked in the same little town just 40 minutes up the coast from Boston.
That alone was remarkable enough. But even more remarkable was that our street specifically — a half-mile long cul-de-sac nestled amongst groves of locust trees above the banks of the Merrimack River — was home to a chemical engineering PhD who worked at a pharmaceutical company; the CEO of a large consulting firm; and an electrician with his own company.
Most incredible of all, our immediate neighbors to one side were Republicans, while those on the other side were Democrats. We became close friends with both of those families precisely because they were the closest of friends with each other. And what was most amazing was not simply the time we spent together, but crucially, the conversations we had together. It was the first time in my life I’d seen people from different walks of life, with different political and world views, coexist peacefully, respectfully, and lovingly with one another. Nobody insulted. Nobody belittled. They did however like to playfully prank one another: during Christmas time, the Republican family would fly a huge TRUMP banner in front of their home just to piss everyone off for fun; the Democrat family would leave Biden-imprinted Christmas tree balls at their front door. It was hilarious.
Also, nobody censored one another. Not in real life, and not on Nextdoor. I know this because I was the moderator for that neighborhood — in fact, I started that Nextdoor neighborhood when we moved in — and nothing, ever, was voted to be censored on grounds of mere disagreement.
And then we moved back here, to my home town of Mill Valley, and it’s like I was suddenly seeing Marin through totally different lenses. The seemingly idyllic perfection of Marin — its impossibly spectacular scenery, sublime weather, stellar schools, low crime, walkability and bikeability — that I know and love now seems tinted with a dark layer of imposed conformity, a sort of animosity crossed with cynicism. There’s a peculiar “you’re either with us or against us” mentality, a veritable Sith-like nature of mandatory unanimity. It’s become a meme of itself, where people seek out every opportunity to find offense, and to be offended. To my wife who grew up during the final years of communism in Romania, she’s often joked that it reminds her of communism, so stifling it feels to ever go against the grain.
Have an innocent question about a contentious topic? Suggest an alternative view? “Your post was hidden because it may have broken the guideline: Posted in error and No spam.” And that’s if you’re lucky. The unlucky ones are those whose posts remain up and attract the flaming rants of vicious neighbors, yapping away like hyenas on a dying animal, a perpetual drip feed of anger coursing through their veins like some sort of intoxicating narcotic. And then it hits you: they’re actually enjoying this.
To be clear, it’s obviously not everybody who’s like this; probably far more are decent, friendly and respectful folk than not. And indeed, we are blessed with amazing neighbors immediately around us. But there’s enough of the unpleasant sort that it makes what should be an altogether pleasant experience on our local social network decidedly… not.
This isn’t the Marin I grew up in — not that long ago, mind; I was a mid-90s kid — and I don’t really recognize it anymore. Where once it seemed the bastion of all things liberal and open-minded, today it feels more like a perversion of once-liberal values now used to stifle rather than foster communication and alternative views. A good litmus test is how often one feels the need to bite their tongue instead of speak freely their mind. Instead of catalyzing warm, community-building bonds, the culture here seems rather to repulse any meaningful sense of unity. Toss in the fact that none of our school teachers, police officers, firefighters, restaurant workers, plumbers, or gardeners can afford to live here, and it feels like we’re left with little more than a superficial framework of a community, without any of its soul.
I took the time to write this because this is my home and because I love it here. But now that I’ve seen what a community looks and feels like when everybody lives together and nobody is afraid to speak, and where all voices are equal and without threat of “moderation,” it’s impossible to go back and un-experience what we did for those two beautiful years in New England.
I know the socio-demographics of Marin are in many respects quite different to our little region of New England; but while this helps to explain the greater challenges here, we should not use that to simply explain away any viable solutions. On the contrary, we should use this knowledge to improve ourselves, and our community, and to be something more than we are:
We should be one. Different views, different backgrounds, but one community all the same.