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'Vigilante' App Raises Eyebrows in NYC, LA

Controversial neighborhood-watch app pays users to livestream crime scenes, other emergencies
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 27, 2021 8:49 AM CDT
Airing Crime Scenes? There's a (Controversial) App for That
A controversial neighborhood watch program is offering to pay New Yorkers to livestream crime scenes.   (Getty Images/carlballou)

(Newser) – There's a new twist to local journalism in New York City and Los Angeles, and it's raising eyebrows. Citizen, which already has upward of 7 million users in dozens of US cities, promises safety alerts in real time, but recent job listings seen by the New York Post show the company is quietly taking things to the new level. The company apparently offers $25 an hour—in eight- or 10-hour shifts—to "field team members" (i.e., pretty much anyone with a smartphone) who livestream crime scenes or other emergencies such as car accidents, house fires, or missing kids to the masses, filling in the gap left by declining numbers of actual journalists. A company rep tells Gizmodo there are currently a dozen such team members in "some cities," with one job listing noting the company is planning on expanding into "other top 10 markets" soon.

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"You will be livestreaming from your phone straight to the app, covering the event as news," that listing on JournalismJobs.com reads, without naming Citizen but instead calling it a "tech company with user-generated content." The app, which originally launched in 2016 under the name "Vigilante," was booted from the Apple App Store a week after it debuted due to concerns of ... inciting vigilantism. Apple let it back into the store after it rebranded as Citizen the next year. Although Citizen, which culls its safety alerts from police scanners and user reports, warns users to never "interfere with an incident, or get in the way of police"—or to go to "an actively dangerous location"—the Verge notes it has run into trouble previously, including when Citizen's CEO gave the OK earlier this year for a $30,000 bounty for a man accused of arson, with his name and picture shared on the app. It was the wrong guy. (Read more crime scene stories.)

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