Police in Australia Ask People to Snitch on ‘Conspiracy Theorist’ Neighbors

Police in Australia Ask People to Snitch on ‘Conspiracy Theorist’ Neighbors
A Queensland police officer at The Gabba in Brisbane, Australia, on Jan. 15, 2021. (Jono Searle/Getty Images)
Naveen Athrappully

Australian police in the state of Queensland, out of concern for the spread of COVID, have requested that citizens report on people they know have taken a stance against COVID-19 vaccines, as well as report on those with extremist views.

“If it’s anybody out there that knows of someone who might be showing concerning behavior around conspiracy theories, anti-government, anti-police ... conspiracy theories around COVID-19 vaccinations ... we’d wanna know about that, and you can either contact police directly or go through constables,” Queensland Police Deputy Commissioner Tracy Linford said in a video shared by political commentator Rukshan Fernando in a Dec. 23 tweet.

The Queensland department’s request follows an incident in which three people recently shot and killed two officers and a citizen at a rural property. One of the three killers is said to have been a member of online forums where he allegedly posted content against vaccinations.

Asking people to report on others for potential COVID-19 violations isn’t new in Australia. In July last year, former New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian asked the public to report anyone who is “not doing the right thing,” which included not following health rules, according to The Australian.
Last year, former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott raised concerns about how COVID-19 lockdowns were making Australians snitch on neighbors, equating it with communism. The readiness of Australians to report on others “worries me a lot,” he said in a podcast, according to Daily Mail.
“If you’re walking down the street and you see someone come out of his house without a mask and you call the police, well, frankly, that’s just Stasi-like behavior,” Abbott said.

Reporting in Australia

In an article published at Phys last month, Catherine Bond, an associate professor of law and justice at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), said that Crime Stopper data in Australia surged amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Crime Stoppers allows people to provide information to police about suspected criminal activity. “What we see, looking at the Crime Stopper data, is that when the government creates a state of emergency, it really starts to be enthusiastically policed, including by regular people,” Bond said.

There were 313,000 reports made to Crime Stoppers in 2019, which jumped to 416,000 in 2020, and finally to 584,000 in 2021.

During the COVID lockdown period, many people began working from home and ended up noticing what their neighbors were doing, she said while explaining the reason behind the surge in Crime Stoppers reporting.

Snitching Consequences

According to Melanie White, associate professor of sociology in the School of Social Sciences at UNSW, people’s appetite for dobbing depends on the context and their sense of loyalty at that particular point in time. Dobbing is a term used in Australia that means reporting on other people to the authorities.

“When we perceive potential harm to our well-being or to the well-being of those close to us, the question of whether to report wrongdoing or not comes into play,” White said, according to Phys.

“Dobbing can certainly work to undermine social trust, and the social fallout for the dobber can be more consequential than any kind of institutional sanctions for the wrongdoer.”

Australian authorities had imposed restrictive measures during the peak COVID-19 period, actions which NGO Human Rights Watch had classified as threatening basic human rights.

For instance, a pregnant woman was arrested in September 2020 in front of her children for organizing an anti-lockdown protest on Facebook.

During one of the lockdowns in Metropolitan Melbourne, residents were only allowed to leave their homes for a limited period of time within a five-kilometer (3.1-mile) radius, for buying food, providing care, attending approved work, or exercising.