Will the next Facebook’s big project is about getting to know your neighbors? Facebook confirmed this week that they’re testing a new feature that encourages users to post and share posts in mini social networks focused on small geographical areas. Users can create unique profiles that share limited information with their neighbors, while Facebook itself will use the detailed location data it collects from those enrolled to get “more relevant” ads.
The new feature, named Neighborhoods, is currently being tested in just a single market, Calgary in Canada, however, it’s likely Facebook will roll out access more widely if the test is a success. Another hyperlocal social network, Nextdoor, has shown the viability of this model and is reportedly seeking an IPO with a valuation of between $4 billion and $5 billion.
Screenshots of the Neighborhoods feature were shared on Twitter. A Facebook spokesperson confirmed the test to Bloomberg, responding: “More than ever, people are using Facebook to participate in their local communities. To help make it easier to do this, we are rolling out a limited test of Neighborhoods, a dedicated space within Facebook for people to connect with their neighbors.”
This change in strategy has not been uncontroversial, though. Facebook’s critics say its new focus on groups has magnified a number of unpleasant trends, from the growth of the anti-vax movement to militias using Facebook groups to incite violence. Moderating these groups has required more effort than Facebook is willing to give, and the same damaging dynamics could easily repeat themselves in neighborhood-focused enclaves. Nextdoor, for example, has been repeatedly criticized for inadvertently fostering racism on its platform, and Facebook’s track record does not suggest it would be able to avoid similar toxicity.