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10 Apr, 2020 20:06

Here come the Twitter police: British officers publicly shame 'Covidiots' and ENCOURAGE pile-ons, but is it a fair cop?

Here come the Twitter police: British officers publicly shame 'Covidiots' and ENCOURAGE pile-ons, but is it a fair cop?

British police are using social media to shame members of the public who 'break the rules' amid the coronavirus lockdown, but is encouraging pile-ons really what law enforcers should be doing?

It seemed like a good idea at the time: taking a drive with three friends on a lovely sunny afternoon in order to walk the dog. But it ended in a written-off car, social shaming, and probably a big financial loss – partly thanks to the way the police reacted.

The four friends were in a Vauxhall Corsa driving along a country road in Berkshire, England, when a large insect flew in through the car window. The 'doodlebug' cockchafer beetle flapping around inside the vehicle caused the driver to panic like Lance-Corporal Jones from ‘Dad’s Army’ and lose control.  

The police came out, and they weren't very happy. Posting photos on Twitter, TVP Roads Policing said “They were driving TEN miles from home to walk their dog. Clearly an avoidable journey. Stay at home!

Cue a pile-on. Perhaps the group were  'Berks' in Berks, but some of the comments weren't very charitable at all. There were calls for the insurance company of the driver not to pay out, and for the group to be billed for the accident. One person wished the police had the power to take their licences away. Another tweeted that they hoped the dog and bug were unharmed – suggesting that they wished the humans were.

Isn't this all a bit over the top and judgmental, when we don't know the full circumstances? The group didn't have to go ten miles to walk their dog (if in fact that was the case) but probably felt they were doing no harm. Take a drive (and get out of the blasted house), give Fido a proper walk and runabout, and come back home.  

They have been criticised for exposing emergency services to potential infection, but did they set out with the intention of crashing? Of course not. Most automatically assumed, seeing the damage to the car, that they were speeding. Yet one Damian Kimmins said on the Twitter thread  that he was travelling in the opposite direction and the accident happened in front of him, and that the group were “not driving excessively fast.”    

We are, in any case, still allowed to leave our homes to shop, take exercise, help vulnerable people, and even in some cases to go to work – and in theory, doing any of these could involve the emergency services being called out. Joggers can collapse, and so can cyclists. If they did, would they be called 'selfish' too?  

This is not the first time the cops have taken to social media to shame people. A couple of weeks back they had a pop at Labour MP Stephen Kinnock, who had tweeted pictures of himself travelling to see his mother and father on the occasion of his dad's birthday. South Wales police picked up on this and tweeted “We know celebrating your dad's birthday is a lovely thing to do, however this is not essential travel.”

Kinnock, to his credit, answered back, saying: “I felt this was essential travel as I had to deliver some necessary supplies to my parents. I stayed long enough to sing 'Happy Birthday’ to Dad and then I was off.

Just think how surreal all of this. Who would have thought a few months ago that we'd have a member of the public having to justify to the police on Twitter why they had gone – albeit fleetingly – to visit an elderly parent on their birthday? “That would be like the German Democratic Republic (East Germany),” you'd say.

In fact, in some senses the way the police are behaving at the moment (even checking people's shopping for ‘non-essential items’ as they leave supermarkets) is worse.  

The Age of Corona has changed everything, it seems. But while we all – or at least, nearly all – accept the need for sensible social distancing measures to be in place to contain the virus' spread, the way law enforcers have been overstepping the mark of late makes one extremely concerned for the future. If they can publicly shame 'Covidiots' and encourage Twitter pile-ons for this, they can do it for other things too.

Anyone who's been the victim of a cyberspace pile-on knows how nasty they can get. Imagine just how awful the four in that car must have felt after the crash – and they then faced social media humiliation. You could understand it if the driver felt suicidal that evening.

Also on rt.com First quarantine, now digital leper bells: How much freedom are Britons willing to surrender in a fit of Covid-19 panic?

The bigger picture, of course, is the age-old ruling class tactic of 'divide and conquer'. The populace are clearly being encouraged to focus their anger on other members of the public, instead of the government (and their very well-paid advisers) for their Covid-19 failings. On the day the foursome set out for their ill-fated car journey, planes were still arriving in the UK unchecked from places where the virus has struck hard.  

Why, I wonder, don't the police tweet about the threats to public safety from that?  Instead, Cambridgeshire Police has become the latest force to develop an online form which allows citizens to report individuals they think are breaching Covid-19 restrictions. The malicious and malevolent will have a field day. “Hello, officer? The man in Number 28 went out for over an hour yesterday. I've been timing him.

The battle against the virus must be won, but do we really want to sleep-walk into a public-shaming police-state of judgmental school snitches?

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.