The Campaign Tactic You Never Heard of: Selective Deletion (Part 2)

In part 1, I discussed how the tactic of selective deletion on Facebook is used to influence people’s opinions on local politics – turning what look like open forums into echo chambers to convince people of policies and views that may be against these people’s own interests.

Unfortunately, this tactic is not only confined to Facebook. Another place where it occurs is on a social networking service for neighborhoods called Nextdoor. Usually, discussions are focused on promoting a particular business for others, helping a relative find an elderly person who has gotten lost or shaming someone who has not picked up their dog’s “material”. However, around election season the discussion understandably turns also to local politics. This period is where selective deletion on Nextdoor can come in and be effective.

You see Nextdoor outsources its admin to local residents who are called leads. As such, leads have a lot of power to help decide what content is inapt and can be deleted. As a result, in several communities throughout Irvine the lead positions are held by people favorable to certain politicians and their wealthy donors – they can even be a politician’s appointees on city commissions.

As a result, political threads are put up. Comments can be posted but what often happens is comments favorable to the specific politicians are allowed while comments that might persuade people of opposing views are deleted by the leads. Often, the pretext for the deletions is that it violates community guidelines.

The guidelines themselves make sense – e.g., no personal attacks between residents. But there is a serious problem – who determines whether the violation occurs? It is the leads. Are they accountable to anyone? Not really as Nextdoor itself does not like to get involved unless they feel their market share in a neighborhood will be threatened. So, while comments are allowed that are clear violations because they directly say how to vote or because they are very malicious, other comments are removed that are less political and not malicious because they conflict with the views of the leads’ political allies and rich donors.

Should there be deletions on these sites? Of course. Inappropriate, irrelevant and cruel things have no place on these social networking sites. But regrettably, some people are using this deletion option to censor differing views and their supporting evidence.

So, please beware. As future elections approach, there will be the usual tactics that you are aware of – e.g., anonymous fliers. But make sure you are aware of another. If you see a group or thread on a social networking site like Facebook or Nextdoor that pushes a particular view on a specific candidate or issue and wonder why no one else takes the opposite position, you now know one possibility. You are not being allowed to see it.