The Georgetowner reported on a troubling trend in our Aug. 5 issue: racial bias in a messaging app being used by the Georgetown Business Improvement District and by stores and police officers in Georgetown to prevent shoplifting.
According to the Washington Post, which covered the issue in a front-page story on Oct. 14, the BID has taken a number of steps to improve the situation, such as reviewing messages in the app for racial profiling and proposing new user guidelines. Now, they’ve made a commitment to shut down the app and train potential users before they are able to log on.
We applaud the BID for taking these important steps and hope, along with many businesses in town, that the app goes back online with new guidelines as soon as adequate reforms are put in place.
The GroupMe app has gotten a bad rap in all of this. The app is not unique to Georgetown. Millions of people use it all over the world to connect with groups of varying sizes with real-time texting.
For Georgetown retailers, the BID and the police, using the app makes sense. It’s a great communication tool that made people feel safe, connected and empowered against criminals. Judging from reports on the app, it has helped stores reduce shoplifting, one of their biggest problems.
We believe it can help them again, but that using such an app requires a little more responsibility. We don’t doubt the intentions of users, but biases lie within all of us. Training will help users identify those biases and keep them in check.
Georgetown has the opportunity to set an example for communities all over the country, and probably the world, that are using apps like GroupMe for public-safety purposes. More transparency and training are just what this trend needs to stay on course.