Vigilantism gone wrong: Mobile app falsely accused homeless man of starting bushfire in California

Edited By: Bharat Sharma WION Web Team
New Delhi, India Published: May 19, 2021, 09:14 PM(IST)

Mobile App Photograph:( Zee News Network )

Story highlights

A vigilante crime application “Citizen” has become testimony to how dangerous online false information is, and how little time it takes for the information to spread like wildfire

Applications modelled on our current social media ecosystem have been accused of lacking balance. Misinformation is rampant on almost every portal, which has become the dominating discourse for all developers on the internet.

Now, a vigilante crime application “Citizen” has become testimony to how dangerous online false information is, and how little time it takes for the information to spread like wildfire. A man from California was falsely accused of starting a wildfire on the application. In addition, a $30,000 reward was advertised for whoever successfully tracks the man.

By the next day, the company has realised the gravity of error, after which it was retracted from the portal. 

“Citizen” is a vigilante application which providers users information about local crime using police scanners and other sources. On Saturday, the app pinned the blame of a large bushfire that broke out in California over the weekend on a homeless man.

In the aftermath of the in-app alert, the suspect was momentarily detained by police officials. Eventually, they ascertained that there simply wasn’t enough evidence available linking him to the crime, as confirmed by the Los Angeles Fire Department to The Guardian.

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Turns out, they’ve now arrested another person for allegedly igniting the fire. But even then, the cost of misinformation attributed falsely to a person on social media is too high in current times. The man’s image had made rounds across several portals by the time Citizen took it down. Over 861,000 people had seen the alert, The Guardian claims.

In response to the erroneous reporting, the application issues a statement saying they are “actively working to improve” their processes to avoid a similar situation in the future. In addition, they said that they error is being “very seriously” by stakeholders.

The picture of the innocent man remained on the application for over 15 hours, which may have led to “potentially disastrous” consequences, as stated by Jim Braden, a sheriff.

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