Hundreds of people have been exposed for reporting people who have flouted social distancing rules and some are now scared they could receive a backlash.
The names and addresses of approximately 900 people in Missouri were released as part of a media request under the Sunshine Law, which allows for the release of information submitted to a public agency (except for wrongdoing and abuse tips).
St. Louis County had urged the community to share details of anyone not following guidelines in response to the coronavirus pandemic and noted in the terms and conditions that information may be shared publicly.
However some people may not have read the small print submitted tips via an online form and email from the end of March.
Many had asked for their communications to remain private.
Still the documents published online ended up being shared on social media and one man, Jared Totsch, helped it spread further as he posted in a Facebook group: ‘Here ya go. The gallery of snitches, busybodies, and employees who rat out their own neighbors and employers over the Panic-demic.’
The complaints resulted in 29 businesses receiving citations in April and now people are worried they may get fired as a result of reporting the company they work for, or that other people may retaliate.
‘I’m not only worried about COVID, I’m worried about someone showing up at my door, showing up at my workplace or me getting fired for doing what is right,’ a tipster named Patricia told KSDK.
‘When there is something that happens next time, I’m not going to feel safe or protected enough to call the local authorities.’
Patricia has Lupus and two other people in her household have auto-immune diseases which put them at high risk of getting seriously ill or dying it they contract coronavirus.
‘We’re in a society where doing what’s right doesn’t always get rewarded,’ she said. ‘We have to be extra careful because we don’t have the strength to fight this.
‘I saw a lot of businesses that were non-essential that were open and had lines outside, parking lots filled as if the order didn’t matter to them. And that was kinda frustrating.’
Patricia – who did not want her last name to be mentioned – said in a video interview that she believes the personal information should have been redacted.
As of Sunday there have been at least 8,437 cases in Missouri and 376 deaths – 3,433 of these cases have been in St Louis County and there have been 177 deaths there.
The St. Louis County executive’s director of communications, Doug Moore, explained that they are not allowed to redact.
‘In this particular instance, our county counselor’s office consulted with the [attorney general]’s office on releasing the list of those who had filed complaints against county businesses,’ Moore said. ‘We were told all the information was public and we should not redact (except for HIPAA information).
‘Withholding information goes against what journalists push us to be – as transparent as possible.’
Totsch, who shared the information on social media, said he had seen it in another group first.
He showed no remorse and admitted that he published the information to stop people from reporting businesses and individuals in future during the pandemic.
If they are worried about retaliation, they should have read the fine print which stated their tips would be open public record subject to a Sunshine request, and should not have submitted tips in that manner to begin with,’ Totsch wrote. ‘I released the info in an attempt to discourage such behavior in the future.’
Asked how he felt about some possibly losing their job because their email was published, Totsch was under the impression it would be deserved.
‘I’d call it poetic justice, instant Karma, a dose of their own medicine. What goes around, comes around,’ Tosch wrote. ‘They are now experiencing the same pain that they themselves helped to inflict on those they filed complaints against.’
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was forced to temporarily close his coronavirus ‘snitch hotline’ last month as the service was inundated with prank calls, pictures of genitalia and memes likening de Blasio to Adolf Hitler.
De Blasio had urged New Yorkers to text 311 to report anyone violating the state’s social distancing rules or stay-at-home orders.
However, the response didn’t quite go to plan as aggrieved members of the public vehemently criticized the ‘tyrannical overreach’ the hotline posed and within hours it was flooded messages of contempt for de Blasio instead.
Such messages included photos of extended middle fingers and links to articles about de Blasio breaking his own social distancing instructions when he was seen going into a gym in mid-March, after the coronavirus outbreak had already started ravaging the city.
In Tulsa, Oklahoma last month Lt. Meulenberg said the department’s call volume has increased substantially with residents ratting out businesses and neighbors alike, though they can’t respond to all of them.
A bar owner said more than a dozen motorcyclists showed up unannounced, but he served them a round of shots anyway to celebrate a birthday.
Another live-streamed a drag queen show on Facebook while up to 20 people drank inside the locked bar, ignoring police when they knocked on the door.
Both were busted – and received misdemeanor citations and court dates – after police responded to tips that the bars were violating the mayor’s order shuttering all nonessential businesses to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.
In some places, investigators are patrolling the streets, looking for violators.
A team enforcing Denver’s shelter-in-place order issued five citations – including to Hobby Lobby and a Game Stop franchise that claimed it was essential – and more than 600 warnings to businesses and individuals as of last month, city spokesman Alton Dillard said. The team also patrols neighborhoods, parks and recreation areas.
In Newark, New Jersey, police shut down 15 businesses in one night and cited 161 people for violating the governor’s restrictions, saying others would be next if they didn’t heed directives. And Maryland State Police said they’d conducted nearly 6,600 business and crowd compliance checks.
In Chicago, a yoga studio that believed it qualified as an essential health and wellness service was closed after the city – tipped off by several residents – disagreed. Teacher Naveed Abidi of Bikram Yoga West Loop studio said he thought the studio could remain open if the space was sanitized, class size limited and students stayed far enough apart.
Chicago police even disbanded a funeral Sunday after seeing a group of up to 60 people, many elderly, congregating inside a church, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said.
Naugatuck, Connecticut, resident Gwen Becker said she was ‘mortified’ when she drove by a golf course and saw a crowd gathered around a food truck and eating at tables together. So she took a video that her friend posted on Facebook – prompting the mayor to shut down the course.