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As Virus Cases Rise, So Does Snitching

Neighbors are tattling on other neighbors amid COVID-19 pandemic
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 3, 2020 12:09 PM CDT

(Newser) Time calls it "a snitching epidemic." Slate calls it "when petty neighbors become the social distancing police." Others think it's precisely what is needed. As the coronavirus pandemic ravages the globe, neighbors are increasingly tattling on neighbors or local businesses violating social distancing rules. The AP rounds up a number of stories of businesses—bars, a yoga studio, a golf course—that were forcibly shut down, cited, or even saw owners arrested after someone informed the cops they were violating orders for non-essential businesses. And it notes that in some cities, authorities are actually patrolling the streets, neighborhoods, parks, or recreational areas on the lookout for violators. More on the COVID-19 tattletale phenomenon:

  • Social media: At Slate, Heather Schwedel specifically calls out NextDoor and local Facebook groups, where posts wondering if "anything can be done" about groups of kids playing have become commonplace. The Washington Post also noted increased "shaming" on NextDoor, though both the Post and the New York Times say people have been offering up help on the site, too.

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  • Around the US: Authorities in Newark, N.J., shut down 15 businesses in one night and cited 161 people for violating restrictions issued by the governor. Maryland State Police said they had so far conducted almost 6,600 business and crowd compliance checks. A Denver team had by Tuesday cited five businesses that tried (and failed) to claim they were essential, and warned more than 600 other businesses and individuals while canvassing the area. States including Kentucky and New Jersey have set up hotlines for people to call in reports of violators. State police in Colorado and Michigan had to resort to asking residents to stop calling 911 with questions about the virus and associated guidelines.
  • It's not just about social distancing: In California, some Coachella Valley police departments have received 911 calls from people concerned their neighbors' loud coughs might be the virus, the Desert Sun reports.
  • Taking matters into their own hands: A Maine sheriff's office is investigating a man's claim that his neighbors felled a tree and blocked his road to keep residents of the home from leaving because the neighbors believed they may have COVID-19.
  • Opinions: Some columnists, like Kevin Manahan at NJ.com, are fully in favor of the neighborly snitching. "I have an important message for neighborhood busybodies across the state: Do your job!" he writes. "Peek from the curtains. Peer from the blinds. Call the police. ... If you see something, say something." Others, like Jeff Charles at Red State, are decidedly on the other side. He calls the trend "annoying," irritating, intrusive, and potentially dangerous."
  • What's to come? Charles notes, "The last thing we need is a cultural paradigm shift towards an environment in which individuals run to Big Brother whenever they see someone else seemingly breaking the rules. ... This trend will likely create a similar societal atmosphere to that which one experiences in countries under the rule of totalitarian governments. When one has to fear being turned in by one’s neighbor, it’s only a matter of time before Americans grow even more divided."
  • Quite a change: At the Week, Jeva Lange notes that this type of snitching is something typically expected of a so-called "Karen." Not so anymore. "Americans are increasingly emboldened to protect their communities, taking a 'Wall of Shame' approach to posting photos and videos of strangers on social media who break the rules."
  • Et tu, dude? At Beach Grit, surfer Chas Smith bemoaned the fact that many surfers took to social media to post pictures of other surfers congregating too closely on the beach or in the water—and many beaches ended up getting shut down. "Surfer fingers pointed in sneering, paternal derision? Wild."
  • Not just a US trend: The BBC reported last week that a UK police department was getting "dozens and dozens" of calls a day from concerned neighbors. Residents are allowed just one form of exercise per day, and the police chief says, "We are getting calls from people who say 'I think my neighbor is going out on a second run—I want you to come and arrest them.'" The AP notes Spain has arrested almost 2,000 people and fined more than 230,000, sometimes with help from so-called "balcony police" taking photos or videos of violators. And a police website set up in New Zealand for the public to report violators crashed when too many people tried to get on at once.
  • On a semi-related note, the Atlantic points out what it calls "the social distancing culture war": Oftentimes it's those on the left more willing to abide by social distancing rules and those on the right who are not.
(Read more coronavirus stories.)

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