I’ve been going through my NextDoor community because — well, I have to keep on top of new problems in social media and information. On good days that means I scroll through TikTok, on bad ones, NextDoor.
One thing people occasionally do on NextDoor is share Ring videos. Some are of legit crimes; the ones I’ve seen are mostly car prowls, where thieves go door to door looking for unlocked cars to steal stuff from. Others are not — e.g., sharing videos of garbage pickers (and yes, the irony of someone hooking up a home camera to Amazon and then worrying about someone picking through their garbage is not lost on me).
It’s really early days and there are not that many Ring videos shared on NextDoor. But still, what I sense — particularly through one video that I watched where a man hassled a homeless man going through his garbage with what I think was a sense of performing for a future NextDoor audience — is that people see a local Ring video with either criminals or conflict in it as a hot commodity. If you have a video that shows suspicious activity — or even better, shows you “standing up” to criminals or people you *think* are criminals, you’re the belle of the ball for the night. You post, and everyone gathers around for a couple rounds of “ain’t it awful” and “good for you”. And the conversation ends, of course, with a bunch of people saying “I really have to get a Ring.”
Get a Ring for protection? Maybe. But that’s not all. People have to get a Ring partially because that’s the only way to get in on the game of video sharing. Which leads to the weirdest dynamic of all — you not only need a Ring to share videos like these — most importantly, and bizarrely, you need crime to happen.
So what happens in communities where the demand for sharable crime exceeds the available crime in the community?
We’ve been through this social story before — Facebook and others created a popular demand for a certain type of story traditional media (and reality) wasn’t providing. So people warped reality to meet the need.
In the case of Ring + sharing, there will be pressures for individuals to take the most minor incidents and frame them sensationally, to create incidents with drama, to edit clips deceptively, to build (or tap into) deep narratives with imbue the mundane with tension, and maybe even to fake content (it seems risky to me for a small community where you know people, but the P. T. Barnum quote applies here). When crime content is scarce, people will expand their definition of crime. When suspicious activity is scarce people will expand the definition of suspicious. When those expansions still fail to serve up enough content, people will engage in even more disturbing stuff. The local dimension may also bleed into more engaging nationally viral Ring videos that serve to structure local narratives. Suddenly your hassling the homeless man video looks braver when shared against the background of a violent conflict over garbage picking the next state over.
Maybe at some point the novelty wears off, and people get off these platforms or find something else to share. I actually think there is a good chance the whole culture implodes out of awfulness. But given the commercials for the product model the sort of content you want to be producing and consuming, and that customers find that attractive, maybe not.
In any case, I’ve generally seen my misinformation/disinformation work as separate from the excellent work Chris Gilliard has been doing around Ring. But what we see here is a very disturbing parallel between the supply gap that fueled our current disinformation crisis and a coming supply gap in sharable Ring videos. History and theory shows when supply and demand fight it out demand wins — we should think very carefully about how that might play out in this case.