Citizen OnAir arson suspect misidentification

Occurred: May 2021

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Citizen is a mobile-based public safety app that features maps of local incidents pulled from 911 calls using a combination of AI and human verification. The app sends alerts to users about nearby incidents, including crime, and lets users report crimes and incidents by live streaming video.

In May 2021, Citizen was forced to apologise after it had wrongly named and posted an image of a man it said was suspected of starting a wildfire in the Pacific Palisades area of Los Angeles on OnAir, its new cable news-style livestream in which a host discusses ongoing incidents that had launched weeks before in April 2021.

Citizen had offered a USD 30,000 reward for information leading to the man's arrest. The 'suspect' was later apprehended by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and released. Citizen’s OnAir hosts had urged listeners to 'get out there and bring this guy to justice.'

Slack messages showed that Citizen CEO Andrew Frame considered the reward project a 'massive net win', and a chance for Citizen to begin 'going into what the government is failing to do.'

The incident raised questions about Citizen's incident verification processes, as well as its culture and values. Formerly known as Vigilante, Citizen was banned from Apple’s App Store in 2016 for encouraging or risking physical harm. 

Operator: Citizen
Developer: Citizen
Country: USA
Sector: Technology
Purpose: Strengthen public safety
Technology: Speech recognition
Issue: Safety; Privacy; Mis/disinformation
Transparency: Governance

Page info
Type: Incident
Published: December 2021
Last updated: January 2023