Its name was an early clue that the venture was a badly executed idea.
A website named GhettoTracker.com launched earlier this week that invited locals to rate neighborhoods in their cities and identify which areas were unsafe, or as the homepage put it, “ghetto.” The crowdsourced information was supposed to help like-minded visitors, or people new to the area, know which neighborhoods to avoid.
Since then, it’s been a busy ride for the site’s founder, who has fielded an avalanche of angry criticism, rebranded the site, defended himself, shut the site down and then started it again.
The word choice was far from the only problem critics had with Ghetto Tracker, which featured a stock photo of a smiling White family on its homepage. Many called it out, accused it of being racist and classist. Ghetto Tracker’s ratings of neighborhoods weren’t based on any hard crime data, just the impressions and biases of regular people.
A Facebook page for the company featured multiple offensive “joke” posts. One showed two young Black men looking in a car under a warning about “#ghetto reports in #tallahassee.” Another linked to an article about “ghetto booty.”
That Facebook page has since been deleted. But the Internet scorn was already spreading.
“It’s pretty detrimental to society when we reinforce the idea that poor or crime-heavy areas are places to be categorically avoided or shamed. As if to assume that every person who lives in an area with comparatively high crime or poverty is a criminal, or that these areas are devoid of culture or positivity,” wrote David Holmes on the Silicon Valley blog Pando Daily.
Several news sites identified the site’s creator as Casey Smith, president of a Florida-based company named Tallahassee Web Design. They cited a link — since deleted — to his company in the cached version of Ghetto Tracker.
But Smith, when contacted by CNN, denied any involvement in the site.
“No, I am not the founder of that site. It seems someone on Twitter saw our standard credits (website by...) at the bottom of the website and for some reason assumed it was my site. I own and operate Tallahassee Web Design and our link is in the footer of a lot of sites that we don’t own,” he wrote.
“I have cut ties with the owner of the site, but he does have the source code and from what I understand he is still pursuing the project elsewhere.”
CNN could not independently verify the identity of Ghetto Tracker’s creator. A call to a phone number purported to be for a representative of the site was not answered.
Since Ghetto Tracker began getting negative press September 3, it has undergone a number of revisions as its founder has scrambled to mute criticism of the site.
At first he rebranded the site as “Good Part of Town,” scrubbing out all uses of the word “ghetto” and adding a different stock photograph of a more racially diverse family. But when critics continued to hammer the site for insensitivity, saying it was not addressing deeper issues of race and class, the founder took it down altogether. In its place was one line of text: “This site is gone. It’s not worth the trouble.”
By Thursday afternoon, however, the site had returned from the dead. The new homepage briefly showed an embedded video from the movie, “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” showing the White Griswold family driving through a Black neighborhood, along with a promise: “We’re revamping the site to make it even better.”
The website has since changed again to a simple message-board format showing topics for each of the 50 states. It includes a new post from the founder, titled, “Debunking the Media Myths.”
“This website was always meant to be a tool to help people stay safe. Although the original name (Ghetto Tracker) may have been, admittedly, insensitive to some people, the purpose of the site remains the same. If I’m traveling to an unfamiliar area, I would like to get the opinions of the locals as to how safe an area is,” it said.
“This website is not about race or income, as some of the PC myrmidons have asserted,” read the post. “Again, it’s about safety. If you don’t care about your personal safety, I suggest you not use this site.”
Heather Kelly | CNN