Technology

Vigilante app Citizen is paying people to livestream crime scenes and emergencies

Citizen, an app dedicated to blasting users with notifications about emergencies and crime scenes in their area, has been paying people to film its content.

The company has been recruiting “field team members” via online job listings, offering applicants $200 to $250 a day if they can track down and livestream events in their local area. These events could range from “child reported missing, to house fire, to anything else,” says the listing, with workers expected to interview witnesses and police officials.

As per the listing: “You will need to be very quick on your feet, not only in terms of going live during moments that provide value to its users and support the app’s mission, but being able to locate and incorporate interviews on the fly that contribute to the live stream.”

The job listings were first spotted by the New York Post, but reports of paid Citizen streamers have been circulating for a while. The Daily Dot reported in June that a man named Landon was frequently seen livestreaming from crime scenes in Los Angeles. Citizen confirmed to the publication that Landon was a member of its paid field team.

As a spokesperson for the company told the Post: “Citizen has teams in place in some of the cities where the app is available to demonstrate how the platform works, and to model responsible broadcasting practices in situations when events are unfolding in real time.”

Citizen also told Gizmodo that it has 12 such “field team members” in total. It’s not clear where they are located, but the job-listings only mention work in Los Angeles (10 hour shifts for $250 a day) and in New York City (8 hour shifts for $200 a day). The company said that content generated by these individuals made up less than 1 percent of content on Citizen.

Citizen, which originally launched in 2016 as Vigilante before being kicked off the iOS App Store, describes itself as a “personal safety network.” It generates location-based alerts for users by scanning police communications and compiling user reports. It tells users to “never approach a crime scene, interfere with an incident, or get in the way of police.”

The company has been repeatedly criticized for encouraging mob justice. In May this year, Citizen’s own CEO authorized the offer of a $30,000 bounty to users if they could find a man accused of starting a wildfire. The man’s name and image were shared on an official livestream on the app, with hosts encouraging watchers to “get out there and bring this guy to justice” and “hunt this guy down.” But the individual was wrongly accused and later cleared by the police, who said Citizen’s actions had been potentially “disastrous.”

The company seems determined to be more than a passive bystander or information source. As first reported by Motherboard in May, Citizen has been testing its own private security force, deploying Citizen-branded patrol cars who would respond to user requests. The company said this was part of a 30-day pilot program that had since ended and that is has no plans to launch fully.