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Getting to know your neighbors used to involve bringing over a casserole or baked goods. You can still do that, of course. But in the digital age, neighborhood apps have emerged as a new way of helping us connect with people living around us.
Digital communities allow us to engage with neighbors and share useful community information. However, as with any social network, you must be careful to protect your personal safety and data privacy. We spoke with experts from Nextdoor to bring you the top safety tips for digitally connecting with your neighbors.
The Basics of Neighborhood Apps
If you’ve just moved to a new community or are feeling a little out of touch in your current one, joining a neighborhood app can make it easier to communicate and connect with people nearby. These virtual communities allow residents to exchange ideas, organize events, share local news, and seek assistance.
Neighborhood apps can also help you stay safe with a place to find and share important safety information. However, even these virtual landscapes require everyone to take steps to ensure your own safety and well-being.
The Do’s of Neighborhood Apps
Responsibly managing these platforms requires balancing our digital and real-world lives. We must establish boundaries and be mindful of what we share and how we speak to others online to ensure a safe and inclusive environment.
Be Aware of Phishing Scams
Phishing scams can occur anywhere on the web, including neighborhood apps. These scammers often use fake links in posts that lead you to divulge sensitive information such as bank passwords or login credentials.
Phishing attacks target unsuspecting users, businesses, and organizations through emails, messages, or fraudulent websites. You should properly vet posts about the following items, which are common social media scams.
- Bargain item scam: The bargain-items scammer offers luxury or desirable items at a below-market price to lure buyers and steal payment information.
- Neighborhood lottery scam: Neighborhood group lottery scammers impersonate legitimate group organizers, claiming to run a lottery to recruit residents. The scammers then pocket the funds instead of purchasing genuine lottery tickets.
- Contractor scam: The contractor scam involves scammers posing as contractors offering their services through the app. They’ll usually have many customer reviews (most of which are fake), will ask for payment up-front, and then never deliver the service.
How can you identify a phishing message? Caty Kobe, Head of Community at Nextdoor, says you should read each post or message carefully.
“Pay attention to messages that come from strange email addresses (even if the sender’s name is familiar), typos, multiple fonts, or odd accents,” says Kobe. “Also, [check] if there are mismatched HTML links within a message. If you hover over a link, look at the status bar at the bottom of your browser window to see if the link shows what is expected. If not, or you are unsure, do not click on the link.”
Also, you should never send money to people you haven’t met or who have not completed a service for you.
Use It to Meet New People
Neighborhood apps offer a great way to meet new people. Join a group that shares your interests, such as a book club or sports team, and engage with others on their posts. From there, be open to extending invitations for meetups or gatherings to further solidify these virtual connections.
Even though you live in the same neighborhood, it’s safest to meet in a public area, such as a local park or shopping area, for the first time. Moreover, make sure a trusted family member or friend knows where you’ll be. Neighborhood apps can help you build lasting relationships with community members when used safely.
Living in a tight-knit neighborhood often comes with the benefit of receiving valuable recommendations from neighbors for home services. These suggestions may be a great starting point, but it’s important to do your research before making any decisions.
Look up recommended service providers, read reviews thoroughly, and check credentials to ensure their expertise aligns with your needs. Additionally, obtain multiple quotes to compare prices and services and don’t share any payment information until the service is complete or the product is delivered.
Choosing the right contractor for your home can be challenging, but if you get trusted recommendations and conduct thorough research, you’ll likely avoid a scam.
The Don’ts of Neighborhood Apps
As much as understanding the do’s of neighborhood apps is important to creating a thriving community, so is understanding the don’ts.
Don’t Post Personal Information
Maybe you’ve heard people say, “Once it’s on the internet, it’s there forever.” Although you can often delete posts, the sentiment behind that sentence is that once you put it out there, it will always exist somewhere in cyberspace.
“My number one tip for staying safe within the Nextdoor app is to not publicly post personal information, like [your] address, phone number, date of birth, or other details,” says Kobe. This makes it easy for cybercriminals to steal personal information, commit phishing attacks, or carry out various forms of cyber exploitation—including impersonating family members or friends.
You should not share any of the following personal information on a neighborhood app:
- Family information: Protect the privacy and safety of family members, especially minors, by not sharing specific details about them.
- Health information: Posting sensitive health details can compromise your medical privacy and lead to potential discrimination or misuse, as well as make identity theft easier.
- Password hints: Providing hints about your passwords (especially when it’s your dog’s name) makes it easier for hackers to guess your passwords.
- Travel information: Sharing about an upcoming trip or vacation can make you an easy target for burglars who know you’ll be out of town.
- Work-related details: Sharing confidential information can have professional repercussions, such as termination.
Remember that neighborhood apps are social networks, and users may experience other forms of online harassment, such as cyberbullying.
Avoid Insulting Language
It should go without saying, but avoiding insulting language is best. Not only does it create unnecessary tension and hurt feelings, but it also contradicts the app’s core purpose of creating a supportive, inclusive environment. In the same vein, not every comment you see needs a reaction, especially if you disagree.
“Just like our ‘real world’ lives, we aren’t obligated to engage in conversations that aren’t productive or healthy for us. If you don’t enjoy the commentary from a community member, you can ‘mute’ their account to ensure your feed has the content that inspires and interests you,” says Kobe.
Avoid calling out others who don’t share your same views or who engage in cyberbullying. Heated debates and arguments can escalate tensions and disrupt the peaceful coexistence of the community. If you’re interested in having a discussion, approach them with an open mind, seeking to understand rather than argue.
Don’t Believe Everything You Read
Although neighborhood apps can serve as valuable sources of information and community engagement, misinformation or biased opinions can also find their way into the mix. Not all online interactions may be positive or constructive, and dwelling on negative content can harm your well-being.
Recent research shows that those who spend more time on neighborhood apps tend to believe that crime rates are higher than they are. In other words, those who see negative news more frequently tend to assume it’s always happening, even though that’s not necessarily true. It’s important to be informed, but don’t let others’ viewpoints cloud your own.
Don’t Let It Consume You
It’s quite easy to get caught up in doomscrolling—excessively scrolling through bad news on social media. While algorithmic techniques and the media are mostly to blame, we shouldn’t let them have control over us.
A constant influx of information and notifications can create a sense of information overload, leading to heightened stress. The relentless pursuit of updates, even in your local area, can also foster a sense of helplessness and overwhelm.
Additionally, spending too much time on these apps prevents you from fully disconnecting even when you aren’t on your phone. You might think about local news while eating dinner with your family, or you might wake up thinking about a concerning post you saw earlier in the day. Overconsumption of news and crime alerts can disrupt your emotional equilibrium.
It’s important to create healthy boundaries and recognize when to take breaks.
Commonly Used Community Apps
Many neighborhood app options are available today, but the following options stand out as the most widely used.
You can find an interest group for almost everything on the largest social network. While Facebook groups serve as micro-communities, they aren’t necessarily local. You may find that your neighborhood has a Facebook group, or you might find groups created for people in your city that share your interests, hobbies, life stages, or career aspirations.
You can request to join any group by visiting the group’s page. You’ll often have to answer questions about why you want to be in the group, and it’s up to the group administrators to approve your acceptance. These admins are also responsible for maintaining the group’s safety and respect.
Neighbors by Ring
Neighbors is a safety app designed by Ring, a company known for its home-security products. Ring allows residents to share and receive real-time updates about local incidents, suspicious activities, and overall safety concerns. This free app’s primary purpose is to serve as a digital neighborhood watch, allowing residents to work together to protect their neighborhoods.
Nextdoor was designed to connect neighbors, serving as a private social network for residents in specific neighborhoods. This quiz will test your knowledge if you want to learn how to use the app safely.
Nextdoor also has a Groups feature that allows you to connect with others around shared activities. “Public Groups are a great way to find activities partners in your community,” adds Kobe. “We see a lot of groups built around pets, parenting, and senior lifestyles on the platform. It’s a great way to find partners for an activity you love.”
Zingr is a social networking app created to help you communicate with people in your area. You can find photos and events from people who live in your region and information on events happening nearby. Zingr supports social interactions by encouraging people with like-minded interests to meet at community events.
Neighborhood apps allow you to connect with neighbors who share your interests and learn what’s happening in your community. They’re also a way to support others and share important safety information while keeping your privacy safe. According to Kobe, using these apps is helpful but also requires a lot of trust.
These apps also remind us of the importance of protecting our privacy, avoiding negative behavior, and being cautious about what information we share online.