Lam Thuy Vo

Data journalism instructor at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY | Brooklyn, New York

Project Overview

The world has been automated to make life for society’s most privileged more convenient: with a click of a button people can post multiple pictures of supposed package thieves on platforms like NextDoor, creating an atmosphere of lawlessness that the numbers don’t always bear out. Through the screen of their phones, people can monitor who’s at the front door using their home surveillance system. Filing dozens of noise complaints over the phone in one night is an onerous task that an app or website has turned into a button-click or two per complaint. All these mechanisms are ways for the uncomfortable to express their displeasure with the neighborhood they chose as their new home, without ever getting up from the couch.

This stream of user-generated local information is increasingly filling the vacuum left behind by local news organizations that shuttered their publications, a trend that held steady during the pandemic when 360 local newspapers shut down operations. What’s more is that the nature of the posts on these platforms may often criminalize non-criminal behavior, as an academic study of the Neighbors platform by MIT researcher Dan Calacci reveals, and comes at a time when virality has many consumers mistaking singular for trends.

In particular, people’s views of crime have been heavily impacted by these platforms and the ways in which virality has brought visibility to egregious incidents around theft and other crimes. But experts worry that these perceptions are not necessarily borne out by the data.

How could we counter potentially distorted views that consumers have of the health of their neighborhood? This project will look into the information imbalances that currently exist in neighborhoods and will also explore the needs of communities that are currently not met.

About Lam

Lam Thuy Vo is a journalist who marries data analysis with on-the-ground reporting to examine how systems and policies affect individuals. She is currently a Soros Justice Fellow, an AI Accountability Fellow for the Pulitzer Center, and a data-journalist-in-residence at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism. She previously was a journalist at BuzzFeed News, The Wall Street Journal, Al Jazeera America and NPR’s Planet Money.

She has told stories at the intersection of economics, technology and society for more than a decade and has documented how power imbalances, when baked into systems, adversely impact those who are already living on the margins. She has documented how excessive ‘quality-of-life’ complaints led to the over-policing of minorities and the raids of Black-owned businesses. She has looked into how changes in immigration enforcement drove immigrants into the arms of fraudulent lawyers. And she has looked into the powerful role that technology has played in the surveillance of teens, the policing of protesters, and the perpetuation of anti-Muslim hate by Myanmar politicians.