The controversial ‘vigilante police and journalism’ app Citizen has come under fire from users again, this time blasting a ‘plane crash’ at LAX, claiming an unattended airbus had crashed into a terminal, when it was a training drill that the airport had warned the public of ahead of time.
The app boasts that it uploads real-time photos and videos from the scene of crimes or emergencies that have been taken by its users and shared without verification. It also offers ‘digital bodyguard’ protections and last month piloted its own private security force.
But in many cases, what is reported is unverified information that people have heard on police scanners or seen for themselves in the street. There is often no confirmation of the details from the emergency services and in many cases, what’s reported is far from what is actually going on.
This was the case on Saturday when someone from Citizen, plugged into the LAFD scanner, heard a worrying report of an unattended airbus that had crashed into a terminal at the airport, with no sign of the pilot.
‘All units responding to the incident at LAX. We are at Gate 225 we have an airbus 320… an airliner into the terminal. Additional reports from the mechanic and others on the ground is that there is nobody on board the plane. Pilot is self-extricated. We’re investigating at this time. Have all companies respond,’ the call said.
Unaware that it was a drill, the app reported it as fact.
‘Unoccupied Airplane Crashed into Terminal at Los Angeles,’ the first blast read.
Another blast which more than 1,500 people viewed, read: ‘LAFD units state the pilot got out of the plane on their own. No fluids are leaking from the plane, and the airplane is fully in the terminal.’
This is the ‘crash’ Citizen reported on Saturday at LAX. It was a training drill where emergency services were simulating what would happen if a plane crashed into a terminal. The plane was next to the terminal but had not crashed, although it was reported across the LAFD scanner as though it had. Citizen ran with it, reporting it as fact
On Saturday, the app was tuned in to police scanners where emergency services were carrying out a training drill for a crash at the airport. It sent a blast to followers, which one shared on Twitter
Another post read: ‘LAFD units state the pilot got out of the plane on their own. No fluids are leaking from the plane, and the airplane is fully in the terminal’
Soon after tweeting the original blast, Citizen sent out a correction to say it was just a drill
People who were in the airport terminal started responding to the app, saying they were fine and that the information was wrong.
Citizen then corrected the blast to tell followers it was just a training drill.
‘Correction: Updated information indicates a training drill is being conducted until noon today. There are no injuries or crashed aircrafts at LAX.’
Earlier in the day, the airport had tweeted: ‘LAX is hosting a training exercise from 8 a.m. to noon today. Emergency vehicles and personnel may be visible on the airfield.
‘This is only a training exercise.’
Citizen users were angry about the misinformation.
‘I don’t know, Citizen App, y’all want me to pay for your private security, but then you get stuff like this catastrophically wrong,’ one user said.
They were referring to the app’s plans to create a private security force to respond to users’ when they are in emergencies, before the police get there.
Citizen piloted the program in Los Angeles in May but ditched its plans soon after.
LAX had tweeted about the training drill before it began to try to calm any panic ahead of time
People on Citizen also chimed in as the live feed was happening to say the report was false
Citizen already offers a personal safety subscription product called ‘Protect’, which allows a Citizen employee to monitor the user’s location when active, and can stream video to the Citizen agent when triggered by a safeword.
Pitched as a ‘digital bodyguard,’ the service advertises ‘Instant emergency response to your exact location’ in the event of trouble.
But the company wanted to go further in establishing its own security force. Emails obtained by Motherboard also revealed they had pitched themselves to the LAPD and received an ‘enthusiastic’ response.
In a statement to DailyMail.com at the end of May, however, the company said they had no plans to launch their own security force.
‘This was a small 30-day test that is now complete,’ a Citizen spokesperson told CBS MoneyWatch of the program.
In May, Citizen pushed the bounty out in an alert to users in Southern California but included a picture of a homeless man, Devin Hilton (pictured), who was later released by the police for lack of evidence
In May, the company also announced plans for its own private security force. A mysterious Citizen-branded ‘private patrol’ car was then seen prowling LA. The company says it is piloting a private security force to respond to user requests
‘We have no plans to launch our own private security force and no ongoing relationship with LAPS.’
The company also came under fire recently for falsely accusing a California homeless man of starting a wildfire, then offering a $30,000 bounty to find him.
Citizen blasted a photo of the wrong arsonist.
The police department ended up arresting a different homeless man for starting the blaze.
After the mistaken identity was revealed, the company said in a statement that it is ‘actively working to improve our internal processes to ensure this does not occur again.’
‘This was a mistake we are taking very seriously,’ the statement added.
Citizen did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the LAX mistake on Tuesday morning.
The Citizen app, first released in 2016, relies on police scanner traffic and user reports, including user-submitted videos, to map reports of nearby crimes and police responses