Amazon and MGM are marketing Ring Nation, their upcoming reality TV show hosted by comedian and former NSA agent Wanda Sykes, as “a new twist on the popular clip show genre.” But over 40 different civil rights organizations are now speaking out against the program for being a dangerous piece of pro-surveillance corporate propaganda and are calling on the studios to cancel the show before it ever sees the light of day.
Today, Fight for the Future, MediaJustice, Action Center on Race and the Economy, and dozens of other civil rights groups affiliated with the Cancel Ring Nation campaign published an open letter addressed to MGM leadership warning them about “the dangerous precedent MGM is setting in normalizing and promoting Amazon’s harmful network of surveillance cameras.” The letter, addressed to MGM TV chairman Mark Burnett and MGM president of unscripted TV Barry Poznick, goes into detail about the dangers Ring cameras and the culture associated with them pose to vulnerable communities and argues that Ring Nation is just the latest piece of Amazon’s Ring-branded “surveillance network” being sold as entertainment.
“Ring has a long history of using racially-coded dog whistles and weaponizing race to promote their products,” the letter states. “And the accompanying Neighbors app gamifies the profiling and criminalization of Black and brown individuals. Footage from Ring cameras was used to track and monitor protesters who took to the streets, exercising their First Amendment rights, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. These are not isolated incidents. Racial profiling and racist policing are core components of Ring’s business model, which profits off fear.”
Though Ring Nation’s yet to air, it’s not hard to understand what sort of series it’s modeled after based on the few details Amazon and MGM have shared about it so far. But unlike other candid clip shows where one might see “neighbors saving neighbors, marriage proposals, military reunions, and silly animals” caught on camera in moments of pure coincidence, Ring Nation’s footage is all sourced from a wide range of Ring products that Amazon sells on the promise of keeping people safe from danger. What Amazon doesn’t try to make clear to consumers as it’s selling them Ring cameras is that it will, when asked, provide police departments with access to users’ footage with neither a warrant nor consent and that Ring’s partnered with over 2,000 police and fire departments. This has been true since before Ring Nation was announced, but Cancel Ring Nation’s letter emphasizes how, in a post-Roe world especially, people should understand how Ring cameras can be weaponized against them and how that weaponization can be exacerbated by programs like Ring Nation.
“Ring isn’t just giving police departments access to surveillance data: it provides them with backdoor access to a mass surveillance network that operates independent of the Fourth Amendment and any oversight,” the letter says. “In the wake of the reversal of Roe, footage from a Ring camera could be used to prosecute an abortion patient who goes out of state for healthcare — either by filming the clinic, capturing them leaving an Airbnb, or proving that they weren’t home for a few days.”
While Ring Nation pulls from footage that Ring users themselves choose to share, what’s troubling is the way that the show — just by existing — presents Ring cameras as a source of entertainment by way of their normalized use. The letter notes that even though there will be individuals who consent to be part of Ring Nation, there’s no way of guarding unsuspecting groups “against the harms stemming from Ring’s surveilling communities at large, especially marginalized communities targeted by police.”
“Not only will MGM’s Ring Nation further normalize harmful neighborhood surveillance, it will deepen the pockets of a corporation that profits from the criminalization of communities of color and surveilling the whereabouts and actions of millions,” the letter states. “Ring Nation is an advertisement for a bleak vision of the future, in which private megacorporations surveil our every move, sell us out to law enforcement, and profit off racism and hatred. Does MGM endorse this future?”
Ring Nation is set to premiere on September 26th.
Correction September 21st, 9:50PM ET: An earlier version of this story stated that all of Ring Nation’s footage was sourced from dedicated security cameras. But according to a Ring representative, clips from the show come from “a variety of sources, including video doorbells, cameras, mobile devices and more.” The story’s been updated to better reflect the full range of devices Ring Nation sources content from.