Lock-downs, stay at home orders, physical distancing, and mask wearing have all made for a frustrating and stressful past 10 months, but what I have found even more irritating is that we have clearly developed into a snitch culture and many have turned to public shaming on social media in order to virtually tar and feather those suspected of not following pandemic protocol.
In an era when most of us have smart phones in our pockets, capable of everything from sending a text, to taking photos and recording video, to lighting our path on a dark night, all with instant connectivity to the world wide web and all of its social media offerings, like many other creations we humans find a way to weaponize it.
Throughout this pandemic I have seen social media users post photos of licence plates they suspect of being from out of town, I have seen photos of a half dozen cars parked in a driveway suggesting too large a private gathering is taking place, I have seen people posting about individuals and businesses caught not following the mask mandate, and much more. It is exhausting, and somewhat immature, to be blunt.
While I understand that we are in the midst of a global pandemic, an experience none of us have had before, that doesn’t give us licence to become cyber-cops and having our ‘friends lists’ become the judge, jury, and executioner, particularly if the cyber-police work is shoddy and not all of the facts are gathered.
It is perhaps not surprising that we have been turning on each other when opportunities arise. After all, we kicked off this pandemic by dividing our society into those deemed ‘essential’, and those not so ‘essential’. I will forever think it a mistake to have created this division, and certainly better terminology could have been used, less divisive terminology, particularly given that most deemed ‘essential’ have continued to be able to work and collect paycheques, while many of those not included in the essential camp have been out of work and relying on government programs during this pandemic. It could be argued that our upper levels of government have set us up for increased friction and for fighting among ourselves simply due to terminology.
But back to snitching and shaming. It doesn’t only take place on social media. Over these gruelling pandemic months I have received email messages from readers ‘reporting’ violations of the pandemic protocols. In a recent email a reader informed me that there were kids tobogganing at Beautiful Joe Park, and they were not wearing masks (gasp). Imagine, children being children, outdoors, sliding down hills while not wearing masks after months of being forced indoors, out of their classrooms, and away from their friends.
Snitching on each other and publicly shaming on social media has emboldened many in their in-person contacts with others.
Prior to the Christmas holidays I made a trip to the grocery store to stock up on some things. I obediently donned a face mask before entering the store. Once back at my car, I removed my mask and as I was loading grocery bags into my car, a voice from behind me said, “I will take that cart from you.” After placing the last bag in the trunk of my car, I turned around to give the man the cart and he said, “Where’s your mask, you think that beard is enough?” It apparently didn’t matter that I had worn a mask inside, it didn’t matter that I was outdoors with my head in my own car not expecting to speak to anyone. It didn’t matter that the man approached me. All that mattered in that moment was that the man wanted to shame someone who wasn’t even doing anything wrong.
We are all stressed, we are all exhausted, and we have all had enough of this pandemic, but we don’t need to turn on each other, we don’t need to attempt to publicly shame those that we deem (often with limited to no information) to be violating pandemic protocols. Nothing is really achieved by public shaming, and sometimes those doing the shaming are just plain wrong.
As an example: a couple of weeks ago I was outside our office at the corner of Sykes and Nelson Streets. A small SUV with Georgia plates pulled up to the curb, the driver got out of the car, already wearing a face mask though none was technically needed. The man dropped some fast food waste into the trash bin, and he then got back into his car and drove away. What I didn’t notice was that another car had pulled up behind the SUV with Georgia plates, and within 15 minutes I saw a post on Facebook that included a photo of the licence plate and a comment that ‘this is why we can’t flatten the curve’.
The person who made the post had no information other than there was a Georgia licence plate. There are a number of reasons that a vehicle with Georgia plates could be in our area and not be in violation of any protocols, but the shamer didn’t think or care about that. The shamer also clearly didn’t see that the driver was more respectful than many I have witnessed in recent months, as he was wearing a mask even though it wasn’t needed, and he had pulled over to put garbage in a trash can, something some locals can’t seem to figure out. So be careful when attempting to shame as you could instead make yourself look the fool.
When this pandemic is all over, we will all still be friends (hopefully) and neighbours (without question). We are a community after all, but I worry that all of these months of snitching and shaming will be a lasting legacy of this COVID-19 experience.