Citizen, the app that encourages users to livestream crimes in progress, has launched a new feature that looks a lot like Stories on Snapchat or Instagram.
Log into the iPhone app, and you’ll see a string of icons across the top with user avatars. Click through, and you'll see a video of a recent crime — “Vehicle crashed into house,” “Teenagers stole from novelty store” —captured by that user, subtitled to explain what's going on. You can even see the number of views and react with a “whoa!” emoji.
The app also features a live chatroom where users can talk to each other about the event seen in the video.
Citizen, which got nearly $1 million in investment from Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund and others, first launched in New York City under the name Vigilante. Critics said it encouraged people to interfere in ongoing crimes and could encourage racial profiling, as the app publishes often vague and potentially inaccurate descriptions of suspects. It quickly became apparent that the creators of the app had consulted with neither the NYPD nor experts on civil rights. “Rejected names include Angrymobb'r, Pitchforkify, and Lynch.io,” one commenter snarked on Metafilter.
Vigilante was removed from the App Store after just two days — Apple did not say why — and returned roughly five months later as Citizen.
While it first appealed to wannabe superheroes, the app now seems to be orienting more toward a crime-as-entertainment play. “Woman killed, set on fire on ninth floor of Clinton houses,” is the top trending story on Citizen right now, followed by “Roofing material caught fire” and “Man shot in face.” When the app initially launched, it was billed as a way to supplement crimefighting by capturing video of wrongdoing, creating a map of ongoing crimes, and bolstering public safety. With this last update, it now seems more like bloody voyeurism.
Citizen did not immediately respond to a request for comment.