Smartphone apps may promote unnecessary fear

Apps like Citizen and Nextdoor are widely promoted to Georgia residents hoping to protect themselves from crime. While violent crime statistics have dropped significantly across the country in the past 25 years, many people are more concerned about crime than ever before. Crime statistics may do little to ease the concerns of people who simply feel unsafe. There are several factors that may contribute to this perception of crime, including dramatic nationwide media reporting that often focuses on the most violent incidents. While these apps may seem to provide people with greater control over their crime knowledge, critics say that they stoke fears and don't protect people from danger.

Some of the apps seem to promote a sensational approach to neighborhood crime. A video promoting Citizen features a dramatic foot pursuit of a woman under a bridge by a hooded man. The app was originally called "Vigilante," and its terms encourage users to live stream video and chat with other users. It also uses fake notices of a nearby shooting in order to induce users to share their GPS location data with the app.

In addition, Nextdoor has come under widespread criticism for providing a fertile environment for racial stereotyping on its platform. Users frequently share reports of people who do not appear to "belong" in a particular neighborhood, an activity that seems to disproportionately target people of color. In some cases, the police may be called, and people living their lives may be targeted for unnecessary investigation and involvement with the criminal justice system.

In some cases, people pulled over in a traffic stop or approached by police on the street may find themselves facing misdemeanor charges or even more serious allegations. People being questioned or accused by the police can work with a criminal defense lawyer to protect themselves.

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