Subscribe Us

Neighborhood Watch Goes Rogue: The Trouble With Nextdoor and Citizen

 Neighborhood Watch Goes Rogue: The Trouble With Nextdoor and Citizen

In 2013, online sleuths combing through publicly available photos and videos of the Boston Marathon bombing locked in on potential suspects, including a high school track star and his coach, who landed on the cover of The New York Post.

The allegations ripped through 4chan, Reddit, and other forums. One problem: these citizens detectives were wrong, and their wild speculation prompted the FBI to release details about the actual suspects, “in part to limit the damage being done to people who were wrongly being targeted as suspects in the news media and on the internet." Reddit later apologized on behalf of its community.

Eight years later, conspiracy theories still run rampant online, but the problem is no longer relegated to the smaller corners of the web. Apps like Citizen and Nextdoor, which ostensibly exist to keep us apprised of what’s going on in our neighborhoods, buzz our smartphones at all hours with crime reports, suspected illegal activity, and other complaints. But residents can also weigh in with their own theories and suspicions, however baseless and—in many cases—racist.

It begs the question: Where do these apps go wrong, and what are they doing now to regain consumer trust and combat the issues within their platforms?

'Tap Into Your Neighborhood'
nextdoor homepage
For a lot of people, apps like Nextdoor and Citizen are as commonplace on their smartphones as rideshare or food delivery apps. Launched in 2011, San Francisco-based Nextdoor aimed to turn neighborhoods into hyper-localized social networks. People joined groups to ask about everything from suggestions for landscaping services to the best places to get pizza. 

But they could also alert each other to “suspicious” behavior in the area. As residents in Oakland, California, soon found out, suspicious often translated to Black. 

Citizen, meanwhile, debuted in 2016 in New York City. Then known as Vigilante, it was pulled from the Apple App Store within 48 hours of its launch amid concerns that the app encouraged people to descend on crime scenes and take matters into their own hands. It relaunched in 2017 on iOS and Android as Citizen, with the company insisting that “any reckless or dangerous behavior will not be tolerated.”

Citizen has since expanded to more than two dozen cities around the US, most recently in Atlanta. It relies on publicly available emergency services data, like 911 calls, and lets users contribute real-time photos and video from the scene, as well as add comments. Zoom in and out on a map of your area for a quick look at what’s been happening there recently, from gas leaks, car crashes, and fires to more violent crimes. Footage is provided to local TV stations for free, The New York Times reports.

But Citizen recently saw an unwelcome return to its vigilante roots when it blasted out a photo of a man it said was a California wildfire arson suspect. “Citizen is offering a $30,000 reward to anyone who provides information that leads to the arrest of the arson suspect in Pacific Palisades,” the alert said. As LA-based reporter Cerise Castle noted on Twitter at the time, people broadcasting live via Citizen OnAir following the alert were asking app users to “hunt this guy down,” even as tips about the man’s involvement in the fire fell apart in real time.

Post a Comment