The Pandemic Brings Out Americans' Inner Snitches

Setting the cops on social-distancing scofflaws is dangerous to public health and a free society.


In the time of the pandemic the world's snitches are in their glory, pointing fingers at "non-essential" businesses struggling to keep the lights on and at neighbors brazenly standing too closely together. Rarely have entitled scolds been so empowered to tattle on people doing stuff of which they disapprove. Lockdown commandments hand them the opportunity not just to publicly shame violatorsan annoying hobby, yet one to which they have every rightbut to inform to the authorities, with all that entails.

As an epidemic, snitching seems to be competing with the virus itself in its spread.

"Snitches are emerging as enthusiastic allies as cities, states and countries work to enforce directives meant to limit person-to-person contact amid the virus pandemic that has claimed tens of thousands of lives worldwide," reports the AP. "They're phoning police and municipal hotlines, complaining to elected officials and shaming perceived scofflaws on social media."

As always, informers are encouraged in their excess by many government officials. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti promised that "snitches get rewards," and his sentiments are shared by rules-makers and enforcers elsewhere.

A certain segment of the public has eagerly embraced the role of social-distancing Stasi, recording perceived violations of safe practices and not just reprimanding the supposed violators for exercising independent judgment, but handing their details off to the authorities.

"Pickup games of basketball. Co-workers enjoying lunch together. A child blowing bubbles while strolling down the sidewalk with family … are drawing looks of disgust, shame on social media, and a flood of complaints to police and local authorities, who are fielding a surge of reports of supposed social distancing violations," notes the Boston Globe.

To their credit, some police departments aren't so enthusiastic about the flood of helpful tips. Police in Las Vegas and Michigan asked locals to please stop clogging 911 with calls about construction workers continuing to build things and people out for runs.

That's understandable when you realize just how motivated many Americans are to fink on their friends and neighbors. Between March 23 and April 8, a dedicated tip line in Kentucky received roughly 30,000 calls from people concerned about the alleged social-distancing faux pas of individuals and businesses. They called "to report everything from fraternity brothers hanging out by a pool to factories that allegedly aren't spacing out employees," according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Tip lines aren't the only means by which Americans turn each other in.

Jurisdictions around the country have launched online forms so people can set the cops on "non-essential" businesses that continue to serve customers and people who stand too close together. Most are meant only for reporting violations by commercial establishments, but New York State's form accepts complaints about all claimed breaches of the state's restrictive social-distancing guidelines.

Of course, social-distancing guidelines exist for a reason: there's a pandemic on, and people are getting sick and dying. Nobody wants to end up on a ventilator and we all want to minimize the harm done by COVID-19. That motivates some people to personally confront those engaging in what seems to be unsafe behavior, or to publicly shame them on social media. Others, though, bypass the personal touch and instead report violators to the powers that be.

Reporting violations to the authorities, in most cases, results in a police response. And there are very few circumstances in which police interactions with the public make things better.

The risks inherent in setting the cops on social-distancing violators are summed up all too well by the story of a Brooklyn woman arrested for violating social-distancing rules by "hanging out" with friends in public. She was then jammed into a jail cell with two dozen other women for 36 hours. It was a situation guaranteed to increase the chance of infection and further spread of disease.

"The tactics that law enforcement officials frequently use to protect people—arrests and detention—are more likely to put people in harm's way," the ACLU warns, calling jails "'petri dishes' for the spread of COVID-19."

Yet that's exactly what people are asking for when they turn to tip lines and reporting forms that have government authorities on the other end.

Snitch culture is dangerous in a larger way, too, since it erodes the structure of a free society by breaking community bonds.

"Denunciations provide the means by which individuals can harm others whom they dislike and gain relative to them within their communities," wrote the University of Chicago's Patrick Bergemann in "Denunciation and Social Control," published in 2017 in American Sociological Review. "Ultimately, this can lead to a reorientation of society away from cooperation and trust, and toward hierarchy and obedience."

So pandemic snitches may preen and pat themselves on the back as guardians of public health, but they're doing long-term damage to the society in which they live. The virus will pass, but distrust of nosy neighbors who peer through the curtains looking for violations of one petty rule or another to report to the authorities will persist for years to come.

Does that mean you have to just grin and bear it if a business designated as "non-essential" opens its back door to customers, or if the people across the street gather for a party in disapproved numbers?

Well, you should probably give it some thought; you don't have to join them, after all. But if your sense of outrage is such that you feel compelled to do something, scolding in person is generally better than sending the cops to do the dirty work. Yes, that might be uncomfortable, but such is the reality of disagreements.

Or you could take a couple of photos and share a suitably outraged post on social media in a good, old-fashioned public shaming. People would then be free to react as they choose.

But, in the absence of immediately dangerous behavior like a violent crime, the worst possible reaction is turning to the authorities as a tattletale. You really can't claim to be morally superior to the subjects of your ire if you get them abused by cops or infected in a crowded jail cell. And you certainly have no moral standing if you erode our society with your snitching.

Who knows? Maybe snitches will come to find themselves on the receiving end of some public shaming by neighbors who prefer tolerating some deviation from the rules to a culture of tattling and fear.

NEXT: With 30 Percent of Tenants Unable To Pay Their Bills This Month Due to COVID-19, Many Want Rent Canceled

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  1. Maybe snitches will come to find themselves on the receiving end of some public shaming by neighbors who prefer tolerating some deviation from the rules

    Maybe the public will reinstitute the time-honored stocks.

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  2. My experience is that snitches are motivated by jealousy more than fear or righteousness. It’s the same core problem of government in general: the more government intrudes in our daily lives, the more profitable (in every sense of the word) it becomes for us to sic government on others before they sic government on us, rather than literally mind our own business.

    Why try to improve your menu or stock more interesting products or hire better mechanics when it is so much easier to snitch on a competitor whose advertising sign is 3 inches too big?

    That’s one of the worst unseen evils of government.

    1. I think a lot of it is anger and indignation. You have to comply with bad regulations, and you see other people who get away with breaking them. It’s like “if I’m going down, everyone else is going down with me.”

    2. “several inches too big” was my nickname in college…

      …is the sort of tasteless and unfunny joke I won’t tell.

  3. I would like to see a Venn diagram of people who are outraged by videos of police brutality and people who are jizzing themselves at the thought of reporting a fellow human. I honestly don’t know how that would overlap would look like.

    1. The Venn diagram has Authoritarianism as the opposite of Libertarianism.

      It’s ridiculous.

      To non-Libertarians, any Volunteer paying of taxes and other tiny and limited government functions is Authoritarianism. The code is that Libertarianism is Anarchy. Fucking morons.

      1. or minarchism….. HAHA fucking buffoons.

        1. You are so ignorant and intentionally ill-informed.

          Tariffs are not taxes.

          You pay your mandated taxes voluntarily.

          Anarchy and Minarchy are not libertarian.

          I hoped you’d spend your “vacation” educating yourself. Apparently not.

          1. Well that is an honest opinion.

          2. I pay neither taxes nor tariffs voluntarily.

            Just because the government doesn’t have to send someone around every year to threaten me directly doesn’t make it voluntary.

            Minarchy are not libertarian.

            It absolutely is libertarianism. Libertarians don’t dispute that some minimal state is better for maximizing freedom than no state at all. We just disagree on exactly where that dividing line is.

      2. Methinks you don’t know what a Venn diagram is, a new addition to your non-knowledge.

        1. Pretty hilarious. I knew he was dumb, but I continually underestimate.

      3. To non-Libertarians, any Volunteer paying of taxes and other tiny and limited government functions is Authoritarianism.

        That doesn’t even make sense. Non-libertarians have no issue with either voluntary or coerced payment of taxes.

      4. The Venn diagram has Authoritarianism as the opposite of Libertarianism.

        That’s not how Venn diagram’s work.

        1. That’s not how apostrophes work.

  4. You poor people who live in tyrannical Blue states.

    1. You mean like Kansas, Texas and Kentucky?

      Yes, there are a lot of would-be authoritarians with D behind their names. But far too many R governors and mayors seem to be reacting to those pronouncements with the political equivalent of “hold my beer”.

      1. And D governors in red states were elected by red voters.

        1. They were elected by the cities and their blue voters.

          1. This is also true. Without Louisville and Lexington (about 1/3 of the population of the entire state), nobody on Team (D) would have a chance.

        2. Here in KY Beshear was voted in not because people liked him, but because Bevin was uniquely hated after he proved that only Trump can act like Trump and get away with it.

      2. >>Texas

        the (D) county judges shut their portions of the state down weeks before the (R) governor did … Dallas County JUdge Clay Jenkins was Lead Tyrant.

        1. as an example not to be argumentative … in these trying times and all

        2. Judges? How does that work?

          1. only Clay knows. County Judge is king of the county here. the “judge” part is ceremonial

          2. They aren’t really judges. That just what we call the “mayor” of the county.

            They presided over the “court of commissioners” who are elected administrators for each piece of the county. My county as 4 or 5 commissioners and a country judge. They manage road projects, emergency preparedness etc. infrastructure stuff.

      3. Kansas has a Democrat as governor

        1. As does Kentucky.

          1. Isn’t the only reason that Kentucky has a Dem governor was because the previous Republican governor was such a shit show even the republicans didn’t want him?

            1. Yes.

              He proved only Trump can act like Trump and get away with it.

        2. That makes it a blue state? Massachusetts has a Republican governor, is it a red state?

  5. NextDoor had some great potential to be a way to broaden and move local interactions online. to restore the older sense of community that came from real-world organizations that have declined. But it is amazing how the people most enabled by that are the snitches and busy-bodies and fearful of everybody who looks different

    1. NextDoor should make a whole forum category for “There’s a black guy walking past my house!”

      1. Busybodies generally don’t see race. But they do hear gunshots whenever a car backfires and, during a pandemic, they have an innate sense to detect if someone isn’t social distancing within a 10 mile radius.

    2. Not from my experience. From my experience NextDoor is nothing but garbage spam.

  6. An act of power by the powerless. They can’t control you so they’ll get the authorities to do it for them.

  7. In my condominium complex, there are two dads (forbidden by law from working) who now have 24 hours of free time a day with their kids. So they’re out their with a gaggle of kids. Has to be more than two families’ worth. They kids are playing, running around, being kids. While the two dads in masks keep an eye out.

    If any fucking snitch turns them in I’ll fucking egg their condo if I find out who did it.

    1. I would go further and spray paint “STASI” in red letters on their door.

      1. ^this. Lets everyone else know who the rat is too.

      2. While I won’t condone vandalism, “American Stasi Membership List” flyers could be very effective, plus if you’ve got your own printer, you can make exactly as many as are warranted.

  8. >>an annoying hobby, yet one to which they have every right

    why? why would you ascribe any sense of it’s okay for those assholes to snitch on their neighbors? same dicks who post “we’re all in this together” to promote the New Society. fuck every one of them hard.

    1. I think he was referring more to people’s tendencies to attempt to publicly shame people by posting on social media, which they do have the right to post whatever they want up to a point. What JD seems to be forgetting is that often times LEOs can see those posts too so ultimately it makes little difference if someone posts on social media or call a snitch line to report on their neighbors, they’re still disgusting people.

      1. >>people’s tendencies to attempt to publicly shame people by posting on social media

        yeah that’s worse at least authority figures have some kind of purported authority … i like your “mind your own fucking business” plan

  9. Or you could take a couple of photos and share a suitably outraged post on social media in a good, old-fashioned public shaming. People would then be free to react as they choose.

    Unfortunately LEOs and other authorities have access to social media too, so I wouldn’t suggest this either.

    How about a truly novel concept: mind your own fucking business.

  10. I got really pissed when my state ordered all public playgrounds to close. It makes zero sense in an epidemic that disproportionately affects the elderly. Yeah, let’s close the one area in the park where the youngest and most germ-ridden people can congregate away from all of the 70 and 80 year olds who are literally anywhere else.

    They don’t come out and SAY that little kids can’t be at the park anymore, but that’s what happens because no parent wants to deal with the tantrums when they can’t go down the slide and it’s too difficult trying to keep them away from elderly walkers. It’s cruel and stupid.

    1. While I’m not for shutting down playgrounds, the thing is, kids then go other places. They aren’t worried that the kids will get sick, they are worried the sick kid will kill grandpa with the disease. I think a little common sense and community engagement could work out a compromise if our betters would allow it. Like maybe stagger park time by last name (eg. if your last name begins with A, B or C, you can play on Monday…); although that may not work for big cities (I’m thinking of my neck of the woods).

      1. Before they closed it down they had a sign posted saying that the CDC recommended against it but if you went anyway to follow (obvious, common sense) rules

        During that short window of time I’d take my toddler and one year old first thing in the morning when I knew no one else was going to be there. I’m tempted to still do it, but knowing how many horrible looks I got before it was officially banned (even though I was always there alone) I’m sure I’d be taken away before I even got them into the car to go home

        1. Oh and btw, child care centers are still open.
          So I could pay for them to be around 10-20 other toddlers and babies. But we can’t go to the playground by ourselves

          1. Yeah, I feel for you. Everyday I drive by a school playground and think, what a waste, at the very least 1 family could be out there enjoying themselves. The idea that the cops would come out an harass them for it just makes me sick.

            1. Strangely enough, my town has taken down baskets from the outdoor basketball courts at one location in town but not another one – maybe the baskets there are not removable?

              When I drove by the second one (on allowable business , I swear it!) a lone boy was shooting baskets. The closest person to him, the only other person visible, was moi, about 70 feet away and passing in a car.

              I hope nobody’s siccing the cops on kids like that here. It’s a small town.

      2. Lock Garandpa up for several weeks, send all the kids back to school, get them all exposed. Problem solved.
        Kids face little risk if they get the virus. As do most of their parents. And kids are some of the biggest vectors to spread disease between different groups of adults. Something worth considering at least.

        I’m sort of operating under the assumption that this virus won’t go away until most people are exposed to it. I really don’t see much hope in containing it or trying to make everyone hide until a vaccine is available (if that ever even happens).

        1. It won’t go anywhere until we have a a minimum level of herd immunity.

          Sitting at home is doing little but stacking the kindling.

    2. >>It makes zero sense in an epidemic

      ton easier to reconcile if your basis is “the whole thing’s a fraud”

  11. One could use the online snitch forms to report their mayor, city council members, governor, state representatives & senators as well as any other locally elected tyrants.

    1. I’ve seen the Governor of Michigan on television several times, not wearing a mask of any sort. Do the Michigan State Police know about this?

  12. Welcome to the People’s Republic of Amerika.

  13. The people who gave us armed militias at the border are whimpering about this?

    I guess getting obliterated in the culture war can stomp the (ostensible) principles right out of a clinger.

    1. You are one weird dude.

    2. Thank you! There is still a culture war to fight, people! Finally, someone to remind us what truly matters.

    3. “I guess getting obliterated in the culture war can stomp the (ostensible) principles right out of a clinger.”

      Your projection is obvious, asshole bigot.

    4. If we’re losing the culture war then why are your side trying to elect an accused sex-offender?


  14. The drive for governments to maximize power is in their nature. Sadly the desire for individuals to serve as volunteer Stasi is as well.

  15. What the hell is wrong with people?

    I guess I’m lucky. NH seems to have been relatively quite reasonable with this. There is a “stay at home” proclamation, but no one is being stopped or questioned about their activities. Everyone is going outside and going hiking in various places. I’m going to work and pretty much doing what I want. And I’m still anxious as hell. I don’t know what I’d do if I were in a state where they are really flexing that authority.

    1. New Hampshire is the most Free State in the USA

  16. Want to bet the snitches are mostly Democrats?

  17. Unearned moral superiority is a hell of a drug.

    Milgram didn’t know the half of it.

    1. No shit. In Santa Cruz the once legend resistance to police has been reduced to bootlicks on social media braying their support for the pig dogs ticketing people (from out of town but still) for daring to be at the 7-11 on Ocean where no locals hang out anyway. That and assholes telling people from over the hill not to come to “their beaches”

      Where is Bin Laden when we need him??

  18. Lotta people with time on their hands and pissed off. Thank god we have democrat governors who can handle it! Not.

  19. I find the underlying implication presented by title of this article inherently objectionable. Not all Americans have “inner snitches” or a weak-chinned shifty-eyed castle informer look about us. Its sloppy and presumptuous writing and poor editorial work. At best one could say “The Pandemic Brings Out SOME American’s Inner Snitches” or “The Pandemic Brings Out America’s Snitches.” Full stop. I don’t like it when shills for the democrats or republicans broad-brush it with their headlines to rhetorical points. I don’t like it when Reason does it, either. The implication is that we are a nation who are all possessed of an inner snitch, which is what naturally follows from this headline, is rank media slander. A lot of my fellow Americans have proven loyal and had my back through thick and thin and would never sell me out. Each one deserves better than this.

    1. Fair points. Well said.

      By the by…are you typing while sheltered in place or out and about as an obvious scofflaw?

  20. It is very sad how big government shrinks too many individuals. Both those itching to use government coercion against their fellows and those requiring it to keep them from wantonly spreading disease to their fellows are such sad shrunken things. De Tocqueville would write very differently of us today than he did, in such glowing admiration, of our forebears and their voluntary and spontaneous action, that made government all but superfluous in domestic affairs.

  21. Millions and millions would love to see, or be, Brown Shirts roaming the streets.

  22. In addition to serving as the neighborhood Stasi, snitches adversely affect public policy. New Jersey’s idiot governor last week ordered all state and county parks closed because snitches complained that there were “too many people” on the hiking trails. Never mind that medical experts at Johns Hopkins Hospital are urging us to get out of our homes for walking, hiking, jogging, biking, etc., notwithstanding the “lockdown,” because exercise is critical for physical and emotional health in these stressful times.

    1. My favorite part was when Murphy said, “I’m not happy,” like we should be afraid of his ‘wrath’, or say, “Oh noes, we made Big Daddy unhappy!” Hope he gets a pilenoidal cyst the size of an orange.

  23. This will not be a final straw for many people. Even if they ask themselves “why am I living in a tiny apartment paying high rent and giving up taxes to a fascist city, when I could live free on my own acre of land?” But, then they will then answer themselves by realizing that they love their Starbucks too much and don’t know how to drive.

  24. This is why I run an online service for snitching on snitches. If anyone should be named and shamed over this it should be them.

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