A new app that allows users to designate D.C. streets on a scale of how "sketchy" they are has drawn plenty of controversy since it launched — and some critics are fighting back with humor.
The SketchFactor app lets its users submit incident reports for everything from assault and cat-calling to low-lit areas and loitering and assign them a "sketch" factor on a 1 to 5 scale, with 1 being not sketchy at all and 5 being sketchy.
The creators, Allison McGuire and Daniel Herrington, told WAMU 88.5 on Friday that the app helps people better navigate cities by understanding where crime or other incidents happen, while also warning them ahead of time of certain threats or dangers.
But since its launch last week, critics have said that the app, which was developed at a D.C. tech incubator, instead makes it easier for users to subjectively deem that entire neighborhoods are dangerous. And in the four days since the app was made available to the public, some have taken to submitting incident reports that poke fun at the app's raison d'être.
"A ton of super sketchy people loitering. 535 people, to be exact," says one report from the U.S. Capitol. "Bunch of white guys in suits constantly asking for money, standing around all day ranting at no one," says another.
"Several people with maps looking around and taking photos. Possibly planning something sinister," reads one from the National Mall, while one from the Lincoln Memorial says, "Some guy in a tall hat was walking around drunk and naked yelling about how he saved the Union and demanding to know where 'that Booth bastard went off to.'"
From the White House, there's this one: "Black man driving too-nice car with dark tinted windows and big entourage. Seems... sketchy." (See below.) And from the Watergate: "Guys with flashlights. Seemed to be looking fort a fuse box or something. Lights were out. Kept me up all night."
A number of fictional incidents were also posted in portions of Ward 3, one of the safer areas of the city. In Clarendon, one user warned of "so many bros."
Users of the app can up- or down-vote submissions, and users develop a credibility score based on the votes their submissions receive.
"We actually weight whether or not certain things are credible, and we learn and create that score based on the amount of interaction from others. So every point can be up-voted or down-voted by saying, ‘I agree, that’s sketchy,’ ‘I disagree, that’s not sketchy,’ ‘Wow, that’s just offensive,’ or ‘This is irrelevant’ and all of that will affect the credibility of that user’s posts," said Herrington in an interview with WAMU 88.5 last week.
The app does feature more serious incidents and observations, including a Friday-night shooting in the Park View neighborhood where a 23-year-old man was killed.
In a posting on the company blog, McGuire and Herrington, who did not respond to comment for this story, defended the app against criticisms that it facilitates racism and classism.
"We have a reporting mechanism for racial profiling, harassment, low lighting, desolate areas, weird stuff, you name it. When people actually download the app, they see that this is truly a tool for everyone," they wrote.