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The rise of fear-based social media like Nextdoor, Citizen, and now Amazon’s Neighbors

[ – 5/7/19]

Violent crime in the US is at its lowest rate in decades. But you wouldn’t know that from a crop of increasingly popular social media apps that are forming around crime.

Apps like Nextdoor, Citizen, and Amazon Ring’s Neighbors — all of which allow users to view local crime in real time and discuss it with people nearby — are some of the most downloaded social and news apps in the US, according to rankings from the App Store and Google Play.

Nextdoor bills itself as the “world’s largest social network for the neighborhood,” where you can ask for nearby restaurant recommendations, buy used furniture, or report a stolen bike. In practice, its “crime and safety” section has been a hotbed for racial stereotyping that’s forced the company to rewrite its software and policies.

Citizen — whose previous form was called Vigilante and which appeared to encourage users to stop crimes in action — sends users 9-1-1 alerts for crimes happening nearby. It also allows users to livestream footage they record of the crime scene, “chat with other Citizen users as situations develop” and “build out your Inner Circle of family and friends to create your own personal safety network, and receive alerts whenever they’re close to danger.”

Now Amazon has thrown its hat in the ring — with Ring. It recently advertised an editorial position that would coordinate news coverage on crime, specifically based around its Ring video doorbell and Neighbors, its attendant social media app. Neighbors alerts users to local crime news from “unconfirmed sources” and is full of Amazon Ring videos of people stealing Amazon packages and “suspicious” brown people on porches. “Neighbors is more than an app, it’s the power of your community coming together to keep you safe and informed,” it boasts.

Read more

Related links:

Apps that find sex offenders



Join the discussion

  1. David M

    Stochastic terrorism

    The public demonization of a person or group resulting in the incitement of a violent act, which is statistically probable but whose specifics cannot be predicted:
    The lone-wolf attack was apparently influenced by the rhetoric of stochastic terrorism.

    The government teaches hate and discrimination to those not smart enough to question the government. Private business carries out a dangerous and irresponsible message that endangers private law abiding citizens without a care in the world.

    A sense of entitlement to harm others unnecessarily without a second thought. Shame on them. Since I’m the only one that can feel shame for them.

  2. المهندس

    It is possible… for Amazon to integrate their AI based (facial) “Rekognition” product into the Neighbors platform; and use video from Ring video doorbells to do real-time match-ups, against mugshots and SO registries.

  3. Will Allen

    I’m really very surprised that the article did not talk about “$EX offenders”. They talk about how these apps further racial discrimination, issues, and actually put people in danger. Yet no mention of “$EX offenders”. Glaring oversight.

    Obviously we all know that tries to keep “$EX offenders” off of their app and out of neighborhoods, presumably where all the decent, good people live and use their app to gossip about “$EX offenders”. It is outrageous that any decent person would actually think that is acceptable. And in fact, I don’t think that decent people do.

    I am on because my family and I find it to be useful. We have used it for all kinds of things, at least one of which was extremely important to us. Without even being biased, I can say without doubt that it is beyond idiotic and hateful that would try to keep me AND my family off of their app and out of our neighborhood. That should truly be offensive to any actual American.

    It is also outrageous that these apps promote themselves for safety and yet deliberately want to ensure that some families are not part of that safety. Doubly outrageous that any government or their law enforcement criminals would use or promote such an app. Ought to be illegal even.

    Speaking of which, if/when I find out that some major service is trying to exclude “$EX offenders”, I typically will start using that service. Perhaps that is a marketing ploy by them? The criminal regime of North Carolina has recently been talking about a new “law” that will make it illegal for any listed person to violate a company’s Terms of Service so that it would be illegal for any listed person to use Facecrook, nextdoor, or whatever. That is the level of desperation that they are at. They’ve been crying their little eyes out ever since they lost Packingham. They are desperate for their next “$EX offender” score. They need a cheap, easy hit.

    • AnonMom

      My nextdoor account was shut down 5 days after my husband went in to register for the first time. They didn’t give me a reason and did not respond to my inquiry as to why my account was closed. I am not on a registry, but my address is. I knew why they did it, but I wanted them to say it. No response. Whatever- I really don’t need to see post after post about anyone of color who has decided to walk around their own neighborhood. People are out of control.

      • Will Allen

        I really hate to give business to scumbags like but I feel like you should get an account. Just because.

        I have no idea how I was able to get an account. I think I was able to because has a feature where an existing user can send “invites” to other people. Those invites have a code and I used that to create my account. I did use my Registered address so I’m not sure how it was still created or still exists. Perhaps if you are invited, you are one of the holy people?

        If I were you, I would find a neighbor who would send you an invite and try that. If that didn’t work, I’d just ask someone if I could use their address and use it. I think most decent people would think that’s policy is immoral and would help. But you’ll have to find some decent people and that might be your challenge.

        I’ve found to be very useful for some things. But even if it weren’t, I think I’d like to at least monitor my area to find out which people/families are idiots talking about “$EX offenders” and which aren’t. That is very useful information. Let’s me know if I should care if their house is on fire or not. Not joking at all.

        • Bob

          There is an entire podcast on just that and the dangers of such a service.

        • AnonMom

          @Will Allen- that is good to know, my mom can likely invite me as she lives in a neighborhood adjacent to mine. I might as well try. My neighbors are Uber conservative nosey busy bodies. They posted my picture in front of my house when the FBI served their warrant asking if anyone knew anything about what was going on. Luckily I was able to get the Facebook admin to remove it in the interest of my family’s privacy and ensure that nobody was in danger.

          I don’t like the idea of giving them my business at all, they make that AD money after all, but I do want to know if someone is target my home or family for vigilante-ism, and next door can be useful for that.

          Thanks again!

  4. CR

    I’ve never heard of Citizen or Amazon Ring’s Neighbors apps. I wonder if either one blocks people who are on a registry from joining, like Nextdoor does. Do any of you know?

    • wonderin

      I have the ring doorbell and I’m not blocked but the majority of app users, like myself, are starting to learn to limit our notification area to a very small one. Mine is condensed to just one block and since then no new notifications.
      Too many idiots want to use it as a bizarre social network?

      • C

        What, you don’t want to hear about 3 a.m. coyote sightings?
        I have a Ring door bell and flood light cam which, so far, serve to tell me when my kids get home and when Amazon delivered my latest order of goodies.
        Like you, I’m so sick of all the useless “alerts” I narrowed it down as much as possible.

      • NB

        Agreed, I have the Ring system and I’ve learned to decrease the radius as well. Prior to that, I was seeing all types of alerts. I do like that Ring does protect its user’s privacy and doesn’t let things run amuck like NextDoor.

        I’ve seen more bickering and situations where people took it offline – from NextDoor than any other site (aside from facebook).

  5. TS

    “To me, the danger with these apps is it puts the power in the hands of the individual to decide who does and doesn’t belong in a community,” Renderos said.

    Who asked them to play a supreme power? No one. These are people and one person doesn’t get the vote of who stays and goes. King or Queen of the cul-de-sac be gone!

    The game of telephone is now a weapon, as discussed here before, through computers, portable devices, and doorbells.

  6. Facts shouls matter

    “It’s natural for people to want to know more about the world around them in order to decrease their uncertainty and increase their ability to cope with danger, Ewoldsen said, so people turn to these apps.”

    This is exactly the false reasoning that has kept Megan’s Law around.

    “Why people are socializing more about crime even as it becomes rarer.”

    Because these app builders know how to exploit the unwarranted fear in parents. These “safety apps” predicate on societies’ insecurities and the availability heuristic. People are addicted to instant gratification, gossip and outrage, so they rely on gimmicky solutions like these apps to get their daily fix. This has been Dr. Phil and Nancy Graces’ business model for years.

    A great way to make money and build power in America is to keep your targeted group constantly afraid of phantom threats.

    The only way to win the game is not to play.

  7. NB

    I’ve used Nextdoor and I currently have and prefer Ring.

    The differences between both platforms are completely different. Nextdoor is intrusive, violates users’ privacy and even leaves many users at risk. Ring does not violate your privacy, it keeps neighbors’ privacy safe by simply using a numbering format.

    As a woman, I would NOT dare put myself at risk. Nextdoor lies about its radius of access. I was on the site yesterday (I used an alias) and I saw a post from a lady in Southern Pines and I’m in a town over 50 miles away. So Nextdoor completely lies about just the immediate area being able to access your info and posts.

    • Will Allen

      “Used an alias” on nextdoor? Why? The thing that matter is the address that you use. What address did you use (was that the alias)?

      I’ve used a lot. Please read my other comments about it here.

      I don’t think that nextdoor lies at all, at least about things that are clearly and easily verifiable. That would not be a good business model. When you write/post something, you can restrict it to individuals or just people in what is defined as your neighborhood (e.g. the homes in your subdivision or whatever). That would be trivial for them to implement and I expect it works completely. I do not think they would lie about it either.

      On the flip side, you can post something that you intend to go to a very large audience.

      • NB

        Again, because I’m a woman that lives alone, so an alias should be acceptable on that site. And, yes, NextDoor lies about the radius/access, because again I am in a town that is 50 miles away from where that lady was posting about a noise complaint.

        How would I be able to see someone’s post in Southern Pines and I’m in Fayetteville? It’s 50 miles exactly between those two towns. And, I could see her full name and location. So for the 3rd time, yes they lie.

        Men always assume that women should not have to take precautions. 🙄

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