It was common, and often very dangerous to ordinary people in the former Soviet Union, and continues to be today in China: family members, friends, neighbors being egged on by the state to report on one another.
Some see echoes of these, and other past and present authoritarian regimes in a tweet posted by London’s Metropolitan Police inviting citizens to report those they witness breaking coronavirus rules.
After all, as one meme posted in response to the tweet suggested, it’s far easier to control the population than it is the virus.
But the police would not like to get inundated with low quality snitching, so the tweet urges people to first understand what exactly passes for a breach of coronavirus rules.
As the example of China shows, technology greatly facilitates this process; not only was the Met able to disseminate this call on Twitter, but also to link to a reporting page on its website. There, citizens can learn that the police prefer reports about serious violations, such as “a large gathering of people obviously from lots of different households.”
The page also includes a location search tool, which those reporting can use to tell the police where the violation is happening – in case they don’t know the postcode or address.
They are also provided with phone numbers and other contact options to use if they think the event is an emergency.
While there are no doubt those who will welcome both the more stringent anti-epidemic measures, and the decision to implement them in this way, there doesn’t seem to be many of them on the Met’s Twitter account.
The majority of messages show that people are either upset or angry, accusing the police of encouraging snitching, not doing their real job of catching criminals, all the way to suggesting they are breaking the law themselves – as these critics don’t consider pandemic related-directives to qualify for actual law the police are allowed to enforce.