Residents of South Carolina can increasingly monitor their neighborhoods, connect with neighbors and report suspicious activity at the touch of a button. Community-oriented social media applications, like Nextdoor, Citizen and Amazon’s Ring, have attracted many users. Critics assert that the applications encourage people to engage in racist stereotyping and create unnecessary fears about public safety.

Users at the popular Nextdoor share warnings about people who they think are casing a neighborhood or otherwise acting suspiciously. Sightings of unfamiliar vehicles, people walking in hoodies or people taking photos frequently trigger posts that make people think that they are surrounded by potential criminals.

A representative from the Center for Media Justice said that these social media platforms are awash with the biases of the users, particularly against people of color. When users alert police frivolously and even share their surveillance footage, they could trigger unnecessary interactions with law enforcement that lead to shootings or other violence. Despite the daily dose of crime alerts on social media, most communities nationwide have crime rates at all-time lows.

Biases might also emerge when people provide eyewitness testimony in criminal cases. A person under arrest might be able to avoid a wrongful conviction by enlisting the aid of a criminal defense attorney. An attorney may review the available evidence and explain the charges to their client. Information about possible penalties may enable the defendant to judge the severity of the case and make an informed decision about how to enter a plea. An attorney might also take actions to challenge weak evidence and achieve a reduction or dismissal of charges. At a trial, an attorney might inspire a jury to look at evidence more skeptically and consider the rights of the defendant.