Citizen · Queer New York · Parker Posey

Plus: Netflix takes on a ProPublica bombshell

Hello hello I’m back. Thanks to Sarah for letting me lounge by a pool last week, and to everyone who signed up for a paid subscription during my birthday-week sale. And, of course, to everyone else for just being you! — EB

Citizen is in the news again. The crowdsourced crime-reporting app, the problems with which we’ve discussed before, made headlines earlier this month…and it can’t blame the crowd for this one. Per Vox:

[Citizen] erroneously named (and posted an image of) an innocent man as an arson suspect and offered a $30,000 reward for information leading to his arrest. It all happened live on a new feature called OnAir that’s meant to provide users with accurate real-time information about breaking news events.

But the poster wasn’t some rando — that’s not how OnAir works, as the company says its an “immersive video experience, including live video from on the ground, interviews with neighbors, and real-time context from the scene” performed by Citizen staffers with journalism backgrounds.

But it was allegedly Prince Mapp, Citizen’s head of community and culture, who falsely accused a man of setting a wildfire in the Pacific Palisades/Topanga Canyon area of Los Angeles, with “get out there and bring this guy to justice.”

A little more than a week later, Vice took a deeper dive into Citizen’s business model and plans, and it’s pretty rattling, with reports of its CEO “whipping himself and his employees into what he'd later call at an all-hands meeting a ‘fury of passion’” while advocating vigilante acts, and a plan to play up crimes to manipulate users into purchasing a paid product.

Users are flooded with notifications in what multiple sources interpret as an attempt to make users feel anxious enough about their neighborhoods to buy "Protect," a $19.99 per month service that allows users to livestream their phone's camera and location to a Citizen "Protect agent" who monitors it and sends "Instant emergency response" in case of an emergency.

"The whole idea behind Protect is that you could convince people to pay for the product once you’ve gotten them to the highest point of anxiety you can possibly get them to," one former employee said, referring to Citizen's subscription service. "Citizen can’t make money unless it makes its users believe there are constant, urgent threats around them at all times," they added. A Citizen spokesperson denied this in a statement: "It’s actually the opposite. With user feedback in mind, we have designed the Citizen home screen so users only see relevant, real-time information within their immediate surroundings," the spokesperson said.

The whole report is long, but important reading: it’s the best articulation I’ve seen so far of how the app leverages mean world syndrome to convince people that they need to consume crime content to remain safe — and to pay to do so.

And that’s not the only way Citizen is reportedly seeking to make suers pay: Citizen confirmed to CNet that it is “testing out a new on-demand security service that would work something like ride-hailing app Uber, but instead of a driver, the app summons a security detail.” Right now, the pilot program is ongoing in Los Angeles, with a company called Los Angeles Professional Security, which has a web that is really something else (scroll to the photos toward the bottom if you’re looking for a “do I laugh or cry?” moment).

But, again, let’s think about this: This company tells you you’re in danger in great detail, then sells you various products intended to manage that danger. If you know that product sales are its stated goal, how reliable are its crime reports, really? It’s worth thinking about the next time you hear about information posted on the app — or if you already use it. — EB

Over the weekend, paid subscribers got not one but TWO bonus reviews. Sarah tackled An American Crime and Who Killed Little Gregory?. If those links don’t work, well, you know what to do…

And now it’s time to pick what she’ll cover in June. The poll is here, and I’ll disclose that I’ve already cast my vote for The Seven Five, because I love love love it when Sarah talks NYPD. But that’s just me! Vote here now to either bolster or oppose my pick. — EB

A new Netflix series is rooted in a ProPublica investigation of the DEA’s role in a Mexican massacre. The 2017 report is pretty plainly headlined “How the U.S. Triggered a Massacre in Mexico.” It’s a deeply-reported and richly-presented story that’s still very tough to consume, detailing a cartel-driven mass slaying in Northern Mexico that killed “dozens, possibly hundreds, of men, women and children.”

The report spawned a 2018 podcast called The Making of a Massacre, which you might not have heard of because it’s on Audible (but featured big names like Cheech Marin and Danny Trejo). And now it’ll be told again via a show called Somos. (FYI: the period is in the title, if you’re searching for it), a dramatic adaptation starring “a large collection of professional and amateur actors,” ProPublica reports, and made by an “almost entirely Mexican crew of writers, researchers, cinematographers, editors, actors and extras. It was written and filmed in Spanish, on sets located primarily in the Mexican state of Durango, not far from Allende, in the neighboring state of Coahuila, which was the scene of the tragic events on which the series is based.”

The show, creator James Schamus says, is different than the typical drug-trafficker show. “Instead of the narco or the cop with the gun,” Schamus tells ProPublica, “we turn the camera around on the extra in the corner. The people who hover around the borders of the screen, those are the people at the center of ‘Somos.’” It’s set to drop worldwide on Netflix on June 30. — EB

Here’s another free, fun online event. Author Elon Green gets a lot of ink on Best Evidence, but that’s because we think he’s really good at what he does: looking at historic true crime tales through the lens of the marginalized LGBTQ+ community. That’s why his reporting on the Doodler remains the industry standard (even now), and why we got so excited about his book, Last Call.

Now you can hear from Green himself, courtesy of the New Canaan Library. That august org is hosting a free webinar with Green on June 14 at 7 PM ET to discuss his investigation into the “Last Call serial killer,” who “preyed upon gay men in the New York area and left their remains in rest areas across three states.” All the details for the event are here, and to register, all you need to do is fill out this form here. — EB

You know it’s impossible for me to return from vacation without coming up with some longreads. This one is from Elle, about a bizarre slaying of an Irish national in the U.S., admittedly by his wife, Molly, and her dad, Thomas Martens. Both were convicted of second-degree murder in 2017, both were released on bond in April after an appeals court overturned those convictions. (An expected retrial has yet to be scheduled.)

The Elle story doesn’t get into their release — it ran in March (yes, I was that far behind on my magazine consumption, sorry), as the appeals process was still winding its way through the courts. It’s far more interested in the details of the case itself — specifically, that Molly, who has a documented history of significant falsehoods, claims that Jason was a longtime domestic abuser, but that neighbors say they can’t believe that that was the case. Here’s a snip:

When it comes to domestic violence, stereotypes impact more than who gets believed—they shape how blame is apportioned. A 2008 study published in the journal Sex Roles found “when the victim [of severe psychological abuse] was nontraditional or she reacted negatively to the abuse (e.g., yelled back), she was rated more negatively and blamed more due to her lack of warmth.” In Meadowlands, it appears other things Molly shared also influenced how people interpreted the abuse allegation. The Corbetts’ next-door neighbors reported that Molly “would say things that did not add up,” according to the prosecutors’ interview summary.

“First of all, everybody lies, that’s true,” Molly says when I broach the subject. “And anybody who says that they don’t, they’re lying.” But “if you had to ask me what I am most ashamed of in my life, it would be the times that I have not been honest with people.” Molly acknowledges she’s “said things to make myself sound better because I’m ashamed of who I am or aspects of who I am.”

Molly claims there were times when she lied because Jason had done so first. He didn’t want people to know that they met when she was his nanny, according to Molly, so the first time they went to a dinner party in their new neighborhood, he made something up. “When that becomes the truth, then you have to develop a backstory and adjectives that go with it,” she says. According to Molly, that’s why people thought she’d been an editor in Ireland rather than Jason’s nanny. But other stories are harder to understand.

Alex Ronhan’s balanced account didn’t lead me to any conclusions either way — in fact, I’m less decided on the case after reading the Elle piece than I was reading the day-to-day coverage of the crime when it happened. You can read her report on the Corbett case here. — EB

Is anyone NOT in The Staircase? In a recent episode of Extra Hot Great, Sarah said that The Staircase, that dramatic adaptation of the Michael Peterson case, appears to have cast “everyone,” and the showrunners appear to have responded with a resounding “challenge accepted.”

Sarah’s comment was about the news that Juliette Binoche had joined Toni Collette, Colin Firth, and Rosemarie DeWitt in an as-yet-undisclosed role on the show. But wait, there’s more: Per Collider, Parker Posey has joined the cast as Freda Black, the prosecutor in Peterson’s murder trial.

Before you blow this off as a one-note character that’s been stunt cast, take a look at the coverage of Black’s death in 2018 at age 57: according to an autopsy, her death was caused by chronic alcohol use, following multiple arrests for DUIs. Victims’ advocate Donna Gore detailed Black’s “downward spiral” at the time, writing that at the end of her life, Black was as far from the courtroom as possible, working a minimum-wage job at a dry-cleaning business, following an unsuccessful 2010 bid for a Durham County District Court judgeship. While all that happened after the Staircase case wrapped up, it gives Posey a lot more to work with than just “lady prosecutor who got super-weird about gay stuff in her closing arguments.” Anyway, I’m hard pressed to think of a prestige-ier true-crime property than how The Staircase is shaping up, can you? — EB

Wednesday on Best Evidence: Magritte and terrorism, perhaps?

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