Susan, a former employee for the crime app Citizen, applied for a job curating the platform’s content and notifications in 2019 “in a pinch”. She had a writing background, was having trouble finding work in New York City, and thought she could make some money while looking for a better fit.
By the time she left less than a year later, Susan said, she was drinking to excess because of work stress, had trouble sleeping and had, at one point, cracked her tooth clenching her jaw while listening to hours of talking on the police scanner. As her mental health declined, her bosses at Citizen were not supportive, Susan said.
“They don’t even know what is going on in our ears,” said Susan, who the Guardian is identifying by a pseudonym due to fear of repercussions from the company. She recalled feeling regularly pressured to keep up appearances, despite the increasingly distressing content workers like her were moderating.
“The job is akin to most internet moderation, but in some ways it is worse because you are looking at videos directly from the scene of a bloody crash, often near where you live,” she said. “You are listening to the most insane shit.”
Citizen uses location data to feed millions of users local crime information that it collects via police scanners. The app made headlines earlier this month for offering $30,000 to anyone who could find a man accused of starting a California wildfire, raising a number of ethical concerns. But former employees say the episode is far from the only troubling one at the company, and that the startup has long been a toxic place to work.
“The job is very hard, it’s very traumatic, and it takes a lot of skilled labor,” Susan said. “It attracts a creative, smart, empathetic person. But there is a disconnect between that and the bosses who don’t appear to care about our wellbeing at all.”
Citizen disputes the claims. “Our employees are our lifeblood,” a Citizen spokesperson said, adding that the company “takes great care to prioritize their health and wellbeing”.