The EFF has something to say about apps like NextDoor, and especially Citizen, which have really become places where the worst of our human traits show up:
“Paranoia about crime and racial gatekeeping in certain neighborhoods is not a new problem. Citizen takes that old problem and digitizes it, making those knee-jerk sightings of so-called suspicious behavior capable of being broadcast to hundreds, if not thousands of people in the area.
But focusing those forums on crime, suspicion, danger, and bad-faith accusations can create havoc. No one is planning their block party on Citizen like they might be on other apps, which is filled with notifications like “unconfirmed report of a man armed with pipe” and “unknown police activity.” Neighbors aren’t likely to coordinate trick-or-treating on a forum they exclusively use to see if any cars in their neighborhood were broken into. And when you download an app that makes you feel like a neighborhood you were formerly comfortable in is now under siege, you’re going to use it not just to doom scroll your way through strange sightings, but also to report your own suspicions.”
I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the last couple of years. We tend to think of the “Big Tech” apps and social networks as being the problem in the digital world, but really it’s all these little places too, because, as they describe, they don’t just keep us informed of actual events in our neighborhoods, they keep us informed of every single instance of something that someone finds suspicious.
This, in turn, makes us go from living in a relatively calm neighborhood to believing we are just one or two days away from the Purge. They do this by making us aware of everything when we used to not be aware of so much. For example, the official statistics of crime might be down, but every day we log in and see stories about someone suspicious walking around the neighborhood, or someone speeding down our street, or a woman who felt scared of someone who looked at her from their car, etc.
All of these warnings of danger start to get in our heads, and make us feel less and less safe, and then, right when we are feeling this, along comes media outlets, politicians, and others who want to not only fuel that fear, but use it to their advantage, so they will conjure up more scare tactics, warning you about the “others” in your city and community who want to hurt you, take your job, kidnap your children, or set fire to your house.
And it all starts when you create a platform that exists solely to “protect” your community from whatever your little brain imagines is a danger, which probably isn’t, and you share that fear out. Except you can’t blame this one on “Big Tech”, you’re doing it to yourselves.