Nextdoor group provides safe platform for Atlanta conservatives

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Graphic by Anna Rachwalski

Within the private group, many right-leaning members are able to freely express their political ideas on Nextdoor.

Ellie Winer

The popular neighborhood communication forum Nextdoor hosts a variety of discussions about Atlanta. Renovators ask for advice on who to hire, people sell chairs and old clothes, and noise complaints run rampant. 
The platform is also used for many public conversations about politics. However, for the Atlanta Area Conservative Group, these conversations are done more privately. 
With nearly 1,000 members, the Nextdoor group has been active since 2012. Leading up to the presidential election, Atlanta Area Conservatives were especially active. Buckhead resident Ellen Smith* joined shortly before the November election but has been conservative all her life. Smith’s experience in the group has been positive, and she believes the group gives her the room to express her opinions. 
“I like it a lot,” Smith said. “I’m happy to have a place where people can feel free to discuss their ideas or say what they would like to say without being ridiculed or harassed … I think that should be true for people on both sides of the political spectrum, actually.” 
Smith refrains from posting political content on her other social media accounts, and never brings her opinions up until prompted. In her experience, civil conversations about politics with others often leave her feeling attacked for her political beliefs. 
“It’s been a relief because there are, of course, people on [Atlanta Area Conservatives] that may have some disagreements with one another … but I haven’t seen any of this harsh bullying and name-calling,” Smith said. 
Jen Heath, who ran for mayor of Brookhaven last year, is an Independent who is a member of both conservative and progressive Nextdoor groups. Heath has encountered many different personalities on the platform, some more resistant to open discussions than others. She feels it’s her responsibility to correct false information and educate both groups. 
“It runs the entire spectrum as I would expect,” Heath said. “As a group, there’s a lot of correcting that goes on. From ‘Hey, that source isn’t reliable’ to ‘I haven’t heard that we should dive into that’ and then some of it is just blatantly [false]. I’m in a few left leaning groups as well. And it’s the same thing over there.” 
Though Heath is socially liberal, she has experienced the same backlash from those who disagree with conservative values in her life as Smith. 
“If I take a stance that is right leaning in my workplace, it is hazardous to my employment,” Heath said. “That has been the case, and when you have the inability to speak freely, we lose a few our freedoms.” 
Both Heath and Smith agree that civil and open discussions between all political parties are important and necessary, but feel the current political climate doesn’t make it easy. Midtown resident Laura Hill* believes it’s almost “impossible.”
“We’re not getting taught to actually have a conversation,” Hill said. “We’re getting taught to react, to just be explosive about things, instead of actually listen to each other.” 
Hill, who is Independent and grew up outside the United States, joined Atlanta Area Conservatives because most of her friends do not share her political views. Like Smith, she refrains from posting political content on other platforms. 
“I’ve started to post a lot [in the group],” Hill said. “The group helped me find information that I … was not exposed to. I have found people that are kind of in the same boat, where they have a lot of liberal friends … so, they just kind of remain quiet.”
Heath believes that the political discourse between parties is nothing new and likely to repeat at the next major election. However she, Smith and Hill agree that open and civil discussions are needed to foster better relationships between parties. 
“If someone with more liberal tendencies joins the conservative group … they are going to immediately go in with a chip on their shoulder just because of the environment that we live in today as far as politics,” Heath said. “If you go into what you consider the lion’s den, you’re going to go in with your bristles up and your claws out. And for both sides, I think that’s the case.”
*Names have been changed for confidentiality

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