Knowing your neighbors has always been the best way to keep your home, your street and your community safe. Before computers, it was over the fence, in the park and at local get-togethers. People posted signs on telephone polls and at the neighborhood grocery store.
But over the last three decades, people have bemoaned how impersonal neighborhoods have become, largely due to the inroads of technology. Children and adults commune with their computers, smartphones and Xboxes, not in real time with real people. If they do go out, they have earbuds on to listen to their playlists and shut out the people and events around them.
That’s changing, and it’s technology that is making the positive impact. Online groups in Facebook, NextDoor and FatDoor are bringing neighborhoods closer together, and working together, to stay safe and connected. A cross between a bulletin board and a Neighborhood Watch, these groups are helping neighbors get to know each other and look out for each other.
Here is a look at how these social media platforms are helping neighbors stay safe and be aware of burglaries and other crime in their local area.
Neighborhood groups formed on Facebook right from the beginning in 2006. It is simple to join and with over a billion users, you’re likely to find people living close by. Much like earlier Neighborhood Watch from the 1960s and 1970s, Facebook pages let neighbors trade information about suspicious people, missing pets and general news in the neighborhood.
It is also popular in rural areas, where “neighbors” can actually live miles away. In small towns and farming communities, Facebook pages keep people connected. In addition to posting information about crime and safety, it lets neighbors get to know each other. People plan picnics, set up real-life lunches and make new friends.
Started in 2011, NextDoor is a social media platform created just for the purpose of bringing neighbors together. Its mission is to use the “power of technology to build stronger and safer neighborhoods.”
Residents of a community join a neighborhood-specific forum within Nextdoor with categories like Classifieds, Crime and Safety, Free Items, Lost and Found and Recommendations.
The platform boasts it hosts over 99,000 neighborhoods. Log in and you will see posts about organizing a neighborhood watch group and reporting a break-in that just happened. People ask for recommendations about everything from a good handyman to a reliable babysitter. They track lost pets, offer free items and simply connect.
The site uses address verification to ensure security. If people don’t want their house address listed, they can choose to use just the street name. Real names are required.
Fatdoor started in 2014. It is much like Nextdoor, except it doesn’t publish addresses. The site was started by a group with backgrounds in robotics and computer science. They use the latest in geolocation and smartphone technology to help neighbors get acquainted.
People on the platform can post simple messages. But they can also use the broadcast button on the site to tell a large group about a neighborhood event like a block party. Using the emergency button, a member can immediately let everyone know about a break-in, car accident or other emergency, while notifying 911 at the same time.
Fatdoor verifies people identities and requires the use of real names. The site uses high-end security to prevent hacking.
The Good and the Bad
It’s good to know who lives around you, putting a name to a face. In an impersonal world, these social platforms are creating virtual porches where neighbors stop to chat.
In many areas, police check out neighborhood platforms like Facebook pages, Nextdoor and Fatdoor to keep abreast of what is worrying local residents. They post information about crimes and suspects so residents can keep a lookout. For many people, this is the closest way they connect with law enforcement, an updated version of the cop on the beat.
But these social media sites do have their downsides. One of the biggest is that not everyone in a neighborhood is on the platform you are using. Some might choose Facebook and not be involved on Fatdoor or Nextdoor. Even in this decade of online-everything, there is a large number who aren’t on any of them. If you plan a neighborhood event, it’s important to contact those not on the platform to come in order to stay inclusive.
The bad guys also get online. Remember not to post personal information that you want to stay private. If it’s online, it isn’t private. Be careful about posting your phone number, times when the house will be empty and information about your children.
Avoid drama. A burglary naturally gets people riled. But much like any social group, even in real life, people can get fearful, even paranoid and make unwarranted accusations. And just like in real life groups, it can lead to marginalizing people for no good reason, just overreaction.
Social media is helping people connect. In every decade, it has always been true that when you know your neighbors, you stay safer and so do they. Connecting on the web is simply an updated method of a tried and true way of fighting crime and staying safe.