Apps that claim to improve neighborhood safety and vigilance about crime are popular among many people in North Carolina. However, critics say that these apps fail to make a difference in stopping actual crime but can instead stoke racist stereotypes and unnecessary fears. While violent crime is at its lowest in decades across the country, an increasing number of social media apps advertise themselves as promoting crime awareness and safety by publicizing local crime alerts and promoting discussion with fellow nearby users.
Surveys have shown that Americans believe crime rates are worsening even though they are not. On the contrary, crime rates have sharply declined over the past 25 years. However, these social media apps, combined with sensationalistic news coverage, make people feel that the world is a more dangerous place. Some of the apps seem to knowingly encourage these fears. For example, one such app, Citizen, urges users to turn on its access to GPS location services by showing a mock crime alert for a nearby shooting. When users scroll down, they are instead informed that such alerts will only be possible if they activate location permissions.
Nextdoor, promoted as a more general neighborhood discussion app, also features a frequent focus on crime. Many users have complained about Nextdoor discussions often descending into racial stereotypes with people of color in a neighborhood seen as a reason for alarm and panicked discussion among posters. These discussions may lead to actual police calls, putting people at risk of police violence or unjustified arrests and prosecutions.
The criminal justice system often continues to be an unfair environment, especially for people of color. People who are facing criminal prosecution after a police encounter can work with a criminal defense attorney to challenge police assertions and present a strong defense.