Citizen Is Paying Users To Run The App And Their Mouths At Crime Scenes And Medical Emergencies

from the patron-of-the-arts-I-guess dept

The app formerly known as “Vigilante” is surreptitiously redefining the term “citizen journalist.” The new definition will probably be capitalized and trademarked. The crime reporting app that once entertained plans to become part of the law enforcement community by partnering with private security companies is paying users to head out to crime scenes and annoy civil servants.

Want to make $200 a day in New York City? Rush to the scene of a murder, a three-alarm fire or a traffic accident — then pull out your phone and start filming.

That’s the pitch from Citizen, a controversial neighborhood watch app that’s quietly hiring New Yorkers to livestream crime scenes and other public emergencies in an apparent effort to encourage more ordinary citizens to do the same, The Post has learned.

This seems like a bad idea. It’s one thing for people to happen upon one of these incidents and start livestreaming. It’s quite another to pay people to put themselves at risk in service of an app hoping to increase its user base and repair its reputation. And it’s yet another thing to be dishonest about what’s happening, as both Citizen and its paid contributors are doing.

In June, the Daily Dot uncovered a Los Angeles Citizen app user who appeared to be a paid content contributor. The user known as Landon1129 just happened to be at the scene of eight separate incidents spanning 30 miles in a single day — a day that also featured “Landon1129” being interviewed twice by Citizen’s own live show. Eight incidents covered by the same user — a user who frequently reminded viewers that he was “live on the Citizen app.” What was probably supposed to look organic looked fake as fuck.

Now, there’s some confirmation, albeit obliquely. Citizen claims it has always used “street teams” to expand coverage, generate content, and, I assume, increase brand awareness. But it has never made this explicit and its ads seeking contributors make no mention of the app.

Citizen says that it doesn’t hide its use of paid field team members.


The company also doesn’t post the jobs on its own Web site. And Citizen’s name was not included in a since-deleted job posting Thursday on career board seeking “field team members” to work for an unnamed “tech company with user-generated content.”

It’s probably not a good idea for a company with both a literal and figurative background in vigilantism to pay people to head to crime scenes and other emergencies. There are plenty of people who get paid to do that already, and they’re better at doing their jobs and not getting in the way of others trying to do theirs than the average respondent to a vague Craigslist ad. Stringers may be interlopers seeking sellable content but at least they have some idea of what to expect when they arrive on the scene and (usually) have cultivated good relationships with the public servants they’ll be working with (and around).

To be sure, journalistic efforts shouldn’t be restricted by gatekeepers who only believe certain people can perform journalism. But Citizen’s history, along with its blatant desire to capitalize on people’s fears, makes it a particularly questionable patron of the journalistic arts. If Citizen really wanted to put its resources behind expanding journalistic coverage of newsworthy incidents, it would do it without the use of a third-party contractor bound by an NDA that forbids telling journalists, who hired the contractor to place ads looking for journalists, who may ultimately not be pleased they’re now working for an app with a terrible reputation.

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Comments on “Citizen Is Paying Users To Run The App And Their Mouths At Crime Scenes And Medical Emergencies”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Oh look, just what corrupt cops wanted

I’m sure the US police are actually rather looking forward to this as it gives them more justification to push for laws keeping people at a distance from any ‘crime scenes’ that might be going on to avoid people getting in the way, making it all the more difficult for cameras to record potentially damning footage that might mean the difference between criminal charges or a slap on the wrist.

Anonymous Coward says:

Mob rule

Can’t wait for all of these videos to cause people to assume things about a crime scene and demand vengeance from prosecutors / the courts.

I may be cynical, but it doesn’t take much. Someone attempts to commit suicide, they have doubts at the last possible second and scream as they cling for dear life. Someone else rushes to assist, gets there before anyone else and saves the would be suicide from their demise. In the process they fall backwards and the would be suicide winds up disheveled looking sitting in front of their savior. Only then does everyone else show up. What do you think happens next? (Hint: That scene is from the movie Titanic.)

With all of these cameras it wouldn’t matter what actually happened. The savior would get railroaded because of public outcry on social media. "He WaS CaUgHt In tHe AcT!" "LoOk At ThE ViDeO! He’S gUiLtY!" There would be no jury that wasn’t compromised with "knowledge" of the case before selection. Unlike the movie, there would be no second chance. Either the would be suicide would be too afraid to vouch for the savior, or the public would claim cover up, and that the videos provided all the evidence they needed. Worse, in the US where punishment is all their justice system knows, the savior’s life would be ruined. Even after getting out of jail, assuming that happens given the nature of the "crime", the savior would never be able to get a decent job or place to live again. They’d be on a sexual predator list for life despite having never actually done anything worthy of being on such a list.

Of course, the only safe response to such a change in society would be to ignore cries for help. Yeah, people might complain about you ignoring the cries and someone dying because of it, but the punishment for that is both known at the time and far less than what could happen if you choose to help.

Again, I may be a cynic, but you know there’s people who would see it that way. Good to know Citizen (like any intentionally misleading named thing) is undermining our society by feeding the worst of us with promises of cold hard cash.

Lostinlodos (profile) says:

How is this (all that) different?

Gorilla journalism has existed for decades. Also known as mondo.

Sit in a car with a scanner, race to the call, whip out your, then, camera, now phone: shoot footage. Get paid.

I don’t know the app’s history: but this doesn’t seem that out there.
If anything they’re underpaying for footage. Which is bad for the filmer.

Anonymous Coward says:

COPSUCKER rhetoric

this story was ignorantly written by a copsucker!
this app is just another copwatch, first amendment auditor, police accountability type of group. and when the blue lies mafia is held accountable then recording them is a job well done!
with many multiple incidences EVERYWHERE of police brutality coming out EVERY week! had there been NO camera, the blue lies mafia criminals would get away with there crimes and innocent victims would be going to prison on false claims!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: COPSUCKER rhetoric

I agree. This article is rather biased. It reads more than just criticizing the business practices or the business itself but the kind of business the business is in. Can we get more objective coverage here in Techdirt regarding crimefighting and cop watching in the nontraditional private sector? I for one, think paying people to go out there filming crime scenes and getting in the way of "civil servants" misbehaving is a good idea per se.

Lostinlodos (profile) says:

Re: Re: COPSUCKER rhetoric

I think your misunderstanding this. The NDA prohibits telling who is paying for the footage.

I know a few gorilla journalists. Like mercenaries they travel the globe for the highest bidder, with a camera instead of a rifle. Sometimes with mercs.

If WaPo rang my doorbell and said $200 to film x I’d tell them where I’d like to stick it.

NBC, Fox News Channel, and CNN all have used silent third parties to get, and supply, footage.

PV did this to get some of the CNN meeting recordings.

Be it BLM, Trump,… AB, CBC
Silent nda payments can get a company footage the wouldn’t otherwise have access too.

That One Guy (profile) says:


Yeah, you might want to dig through TD’s archive as it relates to this company because if you think they’re doing this because they think it will help the public rather than themselves I can but urge you to cherish that innocence as long as you can keep it.

This is a company that offered a thirty-thousand dollar bounty on a person they of being an arsonists(he wasn’t) and really wanted to play cops-and-robbers themselves up to and including the ability to arrest and take people to jail, the idea that they’re doing this because they think it will reduce police crime is rather unsupported when you consider their history.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"I’m going to argue in bad faith here."

Fixed That For You.

"I thought techdirt was all for recording incidents."

Certainly. Government agents need to be monitored as to how they do their job and to provide accurate records of incidents.

However, encouraging the citizenry to monitor each other the way the old DDR did, isn’t that. Particularly so given the history of "Citizen".
But hey, context, what a confusing word, right?

Lostinlodos (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

The app isn’t as well know as you or the author appear to believe it is.

I had long forgotten about some article somewhere about an app for filming and crime that changed its name.

I think the only reason it stuck at all was because whoever wrote what I read twisted reporting crime into some sort of agenda.

Whatever history the app has; it’s not immediate to most people.

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