Ring is a "smart" doorbell that Amazon bought for $1B in 2018, and proceeded to turn into an insecure, networked surveillance device, (possibly wired into Amazon's facial recognition system) and connected to law enforcement so that the company could advertise that owning a Ring made you a good citizen of your neighborhood, part of a mesh of relentless eyes-on-the-street that identified suspicious strangers and sicced the law on them, frontended by an app named with pitch-perfect creepiness: "Neighbors."
There's only one problem with using a fear of malign strangers to sell internet of shit doorbellcams: crime is way down, and continues to fall.
So Amazon is fixing the problem! They're advertising for crime reporters to staff up a new news vertical that will publish cherry-picked, context-free scary crime stories that will contribute to a media-fueled false impression of the dangers presented by your fellow citizens, taking a leaf from the "American carnage" speech that Steve Bannon and Steve Miller wrote for Trump's inauguration and the TV show COPS, which has spent decades brainwashing Americans into thinking that their cities are full of crazed, brown-skinned dope fiends.
Only 15% of Americans are able to correctly answer survey questions about whether crime is rising or falling, with Conservatives faring the worst.
So think about this managing-editor job. Ring wants to be “covering local crime” everywhere, down to the house and neighborhood level. So one managing editor, plus however many other people are on this team, is supposed to be creating a thoughtful, nonexploitative editorial product that is sending journalistically sound “breaking news crime alerts,” in real time, all across the country. Are they really delivering news or just regular pulses of fear in push-notification form? If that’s the job, it is literally impossible to do responsibly.
I downloaded Neighbors—you can do so without owning a Ring doorbell—and plugged in my address in boring Arlington, Massachusetts, a city of 45,000 that recorded zero murders and only seven robberies last year. It decided I needed to know that someone in the uniform of a local lawn-care service had recently knocked on someone’s door instead of using the doorbell and, when no one answered, left. Also, there was a building fire two towns away, a couple of days ago.
Also, two young people, one male, one female, wearing identical T-shirts and lanyards with name badges, carrying clipboards—likely trying to get signatures for some cause or another—rang a doorbell and then walked away when no one answered. “Anyone know who they are?” the post from a Neighbors user asked, perhaps concerned about Islamic State infiltration of the Boston suburbs. “Call the police,” one helpful commenter replied. (It doesn’t take a critical race theorist to suspect that that suggestion might turn into action for people of color who dare to approach a front door.)
The Doorbell Company That’s Selling Fear [Joshua Benton/The Atlantic]
(Image: Cryteria, CC-BY)