Transcript: Will COVID-19 Create a Nation of Snitches? | Apr 27, 2020

Steve sits in a room with white walls, a low slanted ceiling and several framed pictures on the walls including one of George Drew and one of Walter Kronkite. He's slim, clean-shaven, in his fifties, with short curly brown hair. He's wearing a gray suit and a yellow shirt.

A caption on screen reads "Will COVID-19 create a nation of snitches? @spaikin, @theagenda."

Steve says KIDS PLAYING IN THE PARK. NEIGHBOURS CHATTING ACROSS THE DRIVEWAY. FRIENDS MEETING FOR A COFFEE. ORDINARY ACTIVITIES ABOUT WHICH WE NORMALLY DON'T THINK TWICE. NOT ANYMORE. NOW PROHIBITED IN ORDER TO STOP THE SPREAD OF A GLOBAL PANDEMIC, SUCH ACTIONS COULD ACTUALLY PROMPT A CALL TO ONE OF THE SO-CALLED "SNITCH LINES" THAT MANY JURISDICTIONS HAVE INTRODUCED. IF YOU SEE SOMETHING SUSPICIOUS, SHOULD YOU CALL? WE'VE GOT TWO PERSPECTIVES TONIGHT. FIRST, WE'RE JOINED FROM HER HOME IN CALGARY, ALBERTA, BY JEN GERSON. SHE'S A FREELANCE JOURNALIST AND CO-HOST OF THE OPPO PODCAST ON CANADALAND. AND SHE RECENTLY ARGUED, ON THE PAGES OF MACLEAN'S MAGAZINE, THAT YOU SHOULD NOT SNITCH. LET'S FIND OUT WHY.

Jen is in her thirties, with straight brown hair in a bun. She's wearing a brown blazer.

Steve continues JEN, HOW ARE YOU MANAGING?

Jen says I'M DOING JUST FINE.

Steve says GOOD. GLAD TO HEAR IT. A WEEK AGO YOU PUBLISHED YOUR PIECE IN MACLEANS MAGAZINE WITH THE TITLE: DON'T LET CORONAVIRUS TURN US INTO A NATION OF SNITCHES. WHAT PROMPTED YOU TO WRITE THAT?

The caption changes to "Jen Gerson. Freelance Journalist."

Jen says I SAW THE SNITCH LINES POPPING UP ACROSS THE COUNTRY AND TO BE HONEST I FOUND THEM QUITE DISTURBING AND THERE ARE A COUPLE OF REASONS FOR THAT. THE SOCIAL ANTECEDENT FOR SNITCH LINES ARE PRETTY DARK. THEY ARE WIDELY USED IN VERY OPPRESSIVE, VERY AUTHORITARIAN REGIMES AS A MEANS OF CONTROL. MY CONCERN WITH THAT IS IN A TIME OF CRISIS TRYING TO FORCE COMPLIANCE UPON A POPULATION BY MAKING NEIGHBOURS AND FRIENDS DISTRUST EACH OTHER IS EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE TACTIC WE ACTUALLY NEED. SO, YOU KNOW, MY COLUMN ISN'T CATEGORICAL ABOUT THIS, BUT IT CAUTIONS YOU TO MAYBE THINK HARD ABOUT WHY YOU'RE SNITCHING AND WHETHER OR NOT THE THING YOU'RE TRYING TO REPORT IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE RELATIONSHIPS YOU HAVE WITH THE PEOPLE AROUND YOU.

Steve says WELL, YOU KNOW THIS TERM HAS COME UP, COVIDIOTS. DO YOU SEE TOO MANY IN YOUR DAILY ACTIVITIES?

Jen says NO. TRUTH BE TOLD THE VAST MAJORITY OF PEOPLE I SEE IN MY DAILY ACTIVITIES ARE COMPLYING WITH SOCIAL DISTANCING. I'M IN CALGARY, SO WE DON'T... YOU KNOW, WE DON'T HAVE THE SAME DENSITY ISSUES THAT SAY DOWNTOWN TORONTO MIGHT HAVE. YOU KNOW, IT'S NOT TO SAY I HAVEN'T SEEN PEOPLE SCREW UP, BUT TRUTH BE TOLD, I THINK 90 PERCENT OF THE POPULATION IS DOING THE BEST THEY CAN. THE OTHER PROBLEM THAT I HAVE WITH THE IDEA OF COVIDIOTS OR NOT PEOPLE THAT ARE CALLOUS OR WHATEVER. OF COURSE THERE ARE. YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT'S GOING ON WITH THAT INDIVIDUAL AND THAT INDIVIDUAL'S CIRCUMSTANCE. YOU JUST CAN'T KNOW. THERE ARE LIMITS TO YOUR KNOWLEDGE. IS THAT PERSON A COVIDIOT OR T THE END OF THEIR TETHER. IT'S FUNDAMENTALLY UNNOBLE BY YOU.

Steve says CAN YOU GIVE AN EXAMPLE OF THAT. SOMEBODY MIGHT SEE A CIRCUMSTANCE AND SAY, A HA, YOU'RE NOT FOLLOWING PROTOCOLS. I'M GOING TO SNITCH ON YOU. BUT IN FACT THERE IS A MORE LOGICAL EXPLANATION OF WHAT'S GOING ON.

Jen says HEY, ANYBODY HAVE KIDS? LET ME TELL YOU AFTER SIX WEEKS OF BEING COOPED UP INSIDE AND IN CALGARY WE'VE BEEN LUCKIER THAN MOST BUT IN A LOT OF PLACES YOU HAVE A YOUNG CHILD THAT'S BEEN COOPED UP INSIDE, LET ME TELL YOU, YOU'VE BEEN DEALING WITH ALMOST ENDLESS SCREAMING TO GO OUT. YOU'RE DEALING WITH THE MENTAL HEALTH EFFECTS OF THIS ISOLATION ON CHILDREN. THAT IS ABSOLUTELY HEARTBREAKING. IT'S SOUL DESTROYING TO HAVE TO, YOU KNOW, DEPRIVE YOUR CHILDREN OF WHAT THEY ESSENTIALLY NEED TO BE FUNCTIONAL AND HAPPY. SO, YOU KNOW, I WOULD JUST USE THAT AS ONE EXAMPLE. WHEN I THINK ABOUT SOMEBODY COPING WITH THAT AND THEN FEELING LIKE THEY CAN'T TAKE THEIR KID OUT, YOU KNOW, TO KICK A BALL IN A PARK WHICH, YOU KNOW, BY ALL EVIDENCE APPEARS TO BE A PERFECTLY SAFE AND SANE ACTIVITY TO DO RIGHT NOW, EVEN NOW, AND THEN BEING AFRAID TO DO THAT BECAUSE THEY'RE AFRAID THEIR NEIGHBOUR IS GOING TO SNITCH ON THEM, YOU KNOW, THAT'S NOT A RECIPE FOR A HAPPY, HEALTHY SOCIETY THAT CAN MAINTAIN THESE RESTRICTIONS BASICALLY INDEFINITELY.

Steve says LET'S COMPARE AND CONTRAST THE ACTIONS OF TWO BIG CITY MAYORS IN THE COUNTRY. HERE IN THE CAPITAL CITY OF ONTARIO, JOHN TORY IS VERY SUPPORTIVE OF TORONTONIANS TAKING THE INITIATIVE TO REPORT ON THE MISDEEDS OF RULE-BREAKERS, EITHER BY TELEPHONE OR BY POSTING THEIR COMPLAINTS ON A WEBSITE. NAHEED NENSHI, YOUR MAYOR IN CALGARY, WHAT POSITION IS HE TAKING ON ALL THIS?

Jen says ACTUALLY I COULDN'T TELL YOU SPECIFICALLY WHAT NENSHI IS TAKING. I THINK IN ALBERTA GENERALLY, WE'VE BEEN A BIT MORE LAX ABOUT SOME OF THESE RULES. I MEAN, MOST OF THE STORIES ABOUT THE CRAZY BY-LAW OFFICERS WHO ARE COMING DOWN ON PEOPLE FOR TAKING PUSHUPS... OR PULLUPS IN PARKS OR LINGERING TOO LONG ON BENCHES, YOU KNOW, THAT KIND OF STUFF THAT THEY ACKNOWLEDGE ISN'T ACTUALLY A HEALTH AND SAFETY RISK BUT THEY'RE DOING IT BECAUSE THEY HAVE TO DO THIS OR, YOU KNOW, THAT MIGHT LEAD TO UNSAFE GATHERINGS IN THE FUTURE. IT'S KIND OF LIKE A SLIPPERY SLOPE ARGUMENT, RIGHT? THAT SEEMS TO BE PREDOMINANTLY COMING OUT OF ONTARIO AND PREDOMINANTLY COMING OUT OF OTTAWA, REALLY.

Steve says LET ME ASK YOU ABOUT THE PURE POLITICS OF THIS. EVEN BEFORE COVID-19 STRUCK, THE MAYOR OF TORONTO'S POPULARITY RATINGS WERE THROUGH THE CEILING. HE'S ON HIS SECOND TERM RIGHT NOW AND HIS NUMBERS ARE VERY STRONG. HE'S URGING PEOPLE TO DO THIS AND HE'S URGING IT IN A CITY AND A PROVINCE WHICH HAS PRETTY GOOD COMPLIANCE FOR ALL OF THESE THINGS SO FAR. SO IN TERMS OF BEING IN TOUCH WITH SORT OF THE ASPIRATIONS OF HIS PEOPLE, CAN YOU SAY HE'S NOT ON THE RIGHT TRACK?

Jen says WELL, LOOK if you want me to five a TAKE-AWAY FROM THIS VIRUS, ONE OF THE THINGS THAT'S BEEN ACTUALLY STRIKING TO ME, IF WE REVEALED IN A CRISIS A LOT OF PEOPLE AROUND US HAVE REVEALED THAT THEIR NATURES ARE FUNDAMENTALLY AUTHORITARIAN, THEY LIKE SOMEONE IN A POSITION OF POWER HOW TO LIVE AND HOW TO BEHAVE, THAT THEY ACTUALLY BUY IN TO THE IDEA OF GOVERNMENT BY FEAR AND RULERSHIP BY FEAR. THAT HAS BEEN VERY, VERY DISTURBING TO ME, TO BE PERFECTLY BLUNT. YOU KNOW, I THINK THAT RIGHT NOW WE'RE IN THE HEIGHT OF A PANIC. I THINK THAT THE FEAR IS JUSTIFIED. WE'RE IN A REALLY DARK, HARD TIME RIGHT NOW. SO, YOU KNOW, PEOPLE ARE LOOKING TO ALLAY THEIR OWN FEAR. THEY'RE LOOKING TO DEAL WITH THEIR OWN FRUSTRATION. AND THEY'RE LOOKING FOR LEADERS TO JUST COME IN AND MAKE THIS BETTER FOR THEM. SO I UNDERSTAND WHERE PEOPLE ARE COMING FROM RIGHT NOW. I UNDERSTAND WHY THEY'RE USING THEIR EMOTIONS IN THIS WAY. BUT, TO BE BLUNT, I THINK THAT, YOU KNOW, WHEN THIS PASSES, WHEN THE PANDEMIC PASSES, WHEN THE FEAR PASSES, WHAT WE'RE GOING TO HAVE TO DEAL WITH IS WHO WE HAVE ALLOWED OURSELVES TO BECOME IN ORDER TO COPE WITH IT. SO IT'S NOT TO SAY... AND I'M NOT CATEGORICAL ABOUT NEVER SNITCHING. I DO THINK THERE ARE APPROPRIATE TIMES WHEN IT IS THE RIGHT THING TO DO. IF YOU KNOW SOMEONE WHO IS BEHAVING IN SUCH AN IRRESPONSIBLE WAY THAT THEY'RE ACTIVELY PUTTING SOMEONE IN DANGER. SOMEONE WHO HAS TESTED POSITIVE FOR COVID IS RUNNING INTO LONG-TERM CARE FACILITIES OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT, THEN, YEAH, I WOULD SAY THAT IS AN APPROPRIATE THING TO SNITCH ON. BUT IF YOU'RE JUST SNITCHING BECAUSE YOU SEE SOMEBODY IN A PARK AND YOU'RE ANGRY AND YOU'RE UPSET AND YOU'RE COPING WITH YOUR OWN EMOTIONS BY DIALING A SNITCH LINE, I JUST THINK THAT THAT MIGHT BE AN OPPORTUNITY FOR YOU TO SORT OF EVALUATE YOUR OWN EMOTIONAL STATE AND FIND OUT IF THAT IS THE APPROPRIATE THING TO DO, BECAUSE I DO THINK THAT THESE SORTS OF TACTICS ARE VERY, VERY DANGEROUS FOR SOCIAL COHESION AND THEY'RE VERY, VERY DANGEROUS FOR PEOPLE IN TIMES OF CRISIS WHEN WE NEED TO RELY ON EACH OTHER ENORMOUSLY.

Steve says JEN, I CAN'T GIVE YOU AN EXAMPLE THAT IS AS CATEGORICAL AS THE ONE YOU JUST SUGGESTED, BUT I CAN TELL YOU THAT IN THE CAPITAL CITY AT QUEEN'S PARK THIS PAST WEEKEND ON SATURDAY, I THINK, THERE WAS A BIT OF A DEMONSTRATION... I DON'T WANT TO EXAGGERATE IT... THERE WEREN'T THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE THERE, BUT THERE WAS A DECENT-SIZED CROWD OF PEOPLE WHO WERE GATHERED WHO WERE NOT PARTICULARLY PRACTISING PHYSICAL DISTANCING AND THEY HAD THEIR SIGNS AND THEY WERE CHANTING AT DOUG FORD, THE PREMIER, WHO WAS INSIDE THE LEGISLATURE AT THAT MOMENT HAVING A PRESS CONFERENCE, AND WHEN HE FOUND OUT ABOUT THE PROTEST GOING ON OUTSIDE, HE CALLED THEM A BUNCH OF YAHOOS FOR BEHAVING SO RECKLESSLY AS TO ENDANGER THE HEALTH OF SO MANY PEOPLE. I'M NOT SURE THAT'S SOMETHING THAT WE NECESSARILY WOULD HAVE THOUGHT DOUG FORD MIGHT SAY SIX MONTHS AGO BUT HE HAS BECOME A REAL CRUSADER FOR STICKING TO THE PROTOCOLS. WHAT DO YOU MAKE OF ALL THAT?

Jen says WELL, I HAVE NO PARTICULAR OBJECTION TO THAT. THOSE CANADIANS ARE DOING A DANGEROUS THING BUT THEY'RE ALSO EXERCISING THEIR RIGHTS IN A FREE SOCIETY, AND DOUG FORD IS ABSOLUTELY CORRECT TO CALL THEM YAHOOS AND TO CALL... I DON'T REALLY HAVE AN OBJECTION TO THAT...

Steve says HOW ABOUT THIS. YOU SAY THEY'RE EXERCISING THEIR RIGHTS IN A FREE AND DEMOCRATIC SOCIETY EXCEPT THAT WE'RE UNDER A STATE OF EMERGENCY HERE AND WE'RE NOT SUPPOSED TO GATHER IN GROUPS OF MORE THAN FIVE UNLESS THEY'RE ALL MEMBERS OF YOUR FAMILY THAT YOU'VE BEEN LIVING WITH...

Jen says THEY'RE PUTTING LIVES AT RISK. THAT'S VERY DUMB.

Steve says PERIOD, FULL STOP?

Jen says YEAH. BUT, YOU KNOW WHAT? IF YOU WANT TO LIVE IN A FREE SOCIETY TO SOME EXTENT YOU HAVE TO ACCEPT THE RIGHT FOR PEOPLE TO BE DUMB AND TO PUT THEIR LIVES AT RISK IN WAYS THAT YOU FIND UNACCEPTABLE. THAT'S WHAT IT IS. WE DON'T LIVE IN CHINA. WE'RE NOT COMING TO NAIL THE COVIDIOTS TO THE DOOR. THAT'S NOT APPROPRIATE.

Steve says WOULD IT BE APPROPRIATE, THOUGH, IF ANY OF US WERE WALKING BY THAT DEMONSTRATION AT THE TIME FOR WHATEVER REASON, MAYBE WE WERE OUT HAVING A STROLL IN QUEEN'S PARK AND WE SAW THEM ALL AND IF WE KNOW SOMEBODY WHO WAS BEHAVING THAT RECKLESSLY TO GATHER IN SO MANY NUMBERS AND SO TIGHTLY TOGETHER, WOULD IT HAVE BEEN APPROPRIATE... I KNOW YOU WOULDN'T LIKE IT, IT WOULDN'T BE PLEASANT... BUT WOULD IT BE APPROPRIATE TO SNITCH ON SOMEBODY UNDER THOSE CIRCUMSTANCES?

Jen says WELL, WHAT DO YOU EXPECT WOULD BE THE OUTCOME OF THIS SNITCHING? OKAY, SO YOU'D FEEL BETTER, DEFINITELY. YOU'D DO THE CALLING, YOU'D FEEL REALLY GOOD ABOUT YOURSELF. WHAT DO YOU THINK IS GOING TO HAPPEN? DO YOU THINK A POLICE OFFICER IS GOING TO SHOW UP AT THEIR HOUSE AND ARREST THEM OR FIND THEM BASED ON YOUR UNANIMOUS TIP? WOULD THAT BE APPROPRIATE? WHAT IS THE IMAGINED OUTCOME THERE? ALSO I THINK IT'S NAIVE TO ASSUME THAT THE POLICE DIDN'T KNOW WHO WAS THERE. THEY WERE THERE ALREADY. I'M NOT SURE IT WAS NECESSARY. BUT I JUST DON'T UNDERSTAND WHAT PEOPLE THINK THE OUTCOME IS GOING TO BE. LIKE, THOSE... IF THERE'S SOMEBODY WHO IS NON-COMPLIANT WITH SOCIAL DISTANCING, DO THEY THINK THAT THE PERSON IS GOING TO BECOME COMPLIANT BECAUSE THEY GET A KNOCK ON THE DOOR FROM THE OFFICER? OR IS IT EQUALLY POSSIBLE OR PLAUSIBLE THAT THAT KNOCK ON THE DOOR FROM THE OFFICER IS GOING TO... THAT PERSON... SORRY, THAT IS GOING TO CAUSE THAT PERSON TO DOUBLE DOWN ON THEIR NON-COMPLIANCE. I DON'T THINK IT'S ACTUALLY THE SNITCHING THAT DOES ANY GOOD. I DON'T THINK THAT IF YOU'RE MANNING A SNITCH LINE AND YOU'RE GETTING TENS OF THOUSANDS OF CALLS ABOUT NON-COMPLIANT PEOPLE, IT'S NOT LIKE ANY CITY, ANY COUNTRY HAS ENOUGH PEOPLE TO ACTUALLY, YOU KNOW, INVESTIGATE ALL THOSE CLAIMS AND ARREST PEOPLE AND FINE THEM. SO THE PURPOSE OF THE SNITCH LINE ISN'T ACTUALLY TO FIND PEOPLE WHO ARE NON-COMPLIANT. THE PURPOSE OF THE SNITCH LINE IS TO FORCE NON-COMPLIANCE BY IMPOSING A STATE OF FEAR. THAT'S THE POINT.

Steve says JEN, JUST IN OUR LAST 30 SECONDS HERE, TELL US SOME OF THE FEEDBACK OR THE REACTION THAT YOU GOT TO YOUR ORIGINAL PIECE IN MACLEAN'S.

Jen says I THINK MOST OF IT HAS BEEN VERY POSITIVE. THERE ARE THANKFULLY A LOT OF PEOPLE WHO SAW SOME OF THESE TACTICS BEING EMPLOYED AND WERE VERY DISHEARTENED AND DISTURBED BY THEM. YOU KNOW, SOME PEOPLE DISAGREED WITH ME. SOME PEOPLE THINK THAT SAYING DON'T SNITCH IS A RECKLESS POSITION AND I ACCEPT THAT POSITION. BUT TO BE HONEST WITH YOU, MOST OF IT HAS BEEN SUPPORTIVE FROM WHAT I HAVE SEEN.

Steve says JEN, IT'S REALLY GOOD OF YOU TO SPEND SOME TIME WITH US ON TVO TONIGHT. OF COURSE WE WISH YOU AND YOUR FAMILY MUCH HEALTH AND MUCH GOOD SAFETY DURING THIS TIME. SO BE WELL.

Jen says YOU TOO. THANK YOU.

The caption changes to "An obligation to denounce? @spaikin, @theagenda."

Steve says AS WE JUST DISCUSSED IN OUR CONVERSATION WITH JEN GERSON, THIS PAST WEEKEND A SMALL CLUSTER OF PROTESTERS GATHERED ON THE SOUTH LAWN AT QUEEN'S PARK, OPPOSED TO THE GOVERNMENT'S SHUT-DOWN ORDERS. PREMIER FORD CALLED THEM A BUNCH OF SELFISH YAHOOS. THAT MIGHT BE PARTICULARLY APT, ACCORDING TO OUR NEXT GUEST, WHO SEES THE MERIT IN "SNITCH LINES." MELANEE THOMAS IS AN ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF POLITICAL SCIENCE AT THE UNIVERSITY OF CALGARY, AND SHE JOINS US NOW FROM THE STAMPEDE CITY.

Melanee is in her late thirties, with long straight blond hair and bangs. She's wearing a black pinstripe blazer and a white shirt.

Steve continues AS SOON AS THOSE WORDS CAME OUT OF MY MOUTH, I REALIZED, THERE'S NOT GOING TO BE A STAMPEDE THIS YEAR, SO MAYBE I CAN'T CALL YOU THE STAMPEDE CITY. ANYWAY, MELANEE, IT'S GOOD TO SEE YOU AGAIN. THANKS FOR COMING ON TONIGHT.

Melanee says THANKS FOR HAVING ME.

Steve says LAST WEEK YOU PUBLISHED A PIECE IN WHICH YOU WONDERED WHY SOME FOLKS, THIS IS YOUR LINE, SOME FOLKS SIMPLY DON'T WANT TO COMPLY WITH COVID-19 RULES AND WHY WE HAVE TO MAKE THEM. LET'S START WITH THE FIRST PART. WHO ARE THE PEOPLE IN YOUR JUDGMENT WHO DON'T WANT TO COMPLY RIGHT NOW?

The caption changes to "Melanee Thomas. University of Calgary."

Melanee says BY WAY OF CAVEAT, THE RESEARCH THAT WE'RE POLLING ON IS DECADES OLD AND IT'S A REVISION ON HOW PEOPLE TYPICALLY USED TO THINK ABOUT HOW HUMAN BEHAVIOUR WAS. SO IF YOU LOOK PREVIOUSLY AT BEHAVIOURAL ECONOMICS SEVERAL YEARS AGO, THE ASSUMPTION WAS THAT EVERYBODY WAS A RATIONALE, SELF-INTERESTED, SHORT-TERM THINKING ACTOR WHERE THEY WOULD MAXIMIZE WHAT WAS BEST FOR THEM IN THE MOMENT AND RESEARCH CAME ALONG AND CONFIRMED THAT ACTUALLY MOST PEOPLE AREN'T THAT, IN FACT. MOST PEOPLE ARE, IF YOU GIVE THEM A GOOD ARGUMENT WITH CLEAR AND OPEN COMMUNICATION, YOU CAN GET THEM TO ACT IN A KIND OF COLLECTIVE GOOD. AND SO I THINK THE GOOD NEWS PIECE THAT I'D LIKE TO TAKE OUT OF WORKS THAT WE WERE DRAWING ON IS THAT MOST PEOPLE ARE ACTUALLY NOT IN FACT THESE SHORT-TERM SELF-INTERESTED THINKERS, BUT THERE STILL IS A GOOD PLAUSIBLE MAJORITY OF FOLKS WHO AREN'T GOING TO FOLLOW ALONG WITH SAY PUBLIC HEALTH RULES IN A PANDEMIC UNLESS THEY CAN BE CONVINCED IN THE RIGHT NOW, AND THAT'S THE GROUP WE WERE INITIALLY FOCUSED ON WHEN WE WROTE THE PIECE.

Steve says LET'S JUST SHARE SOME OF THE NUMBERS THAT YOU CAME UP WITH HERE. THIS IS THE BREAKDOWN IN POPULATION OF LET'S CALL IT SOCIAL TEMPERAMENTS HERE. THE FOUR GROUPS...

A slate appears on screen, with the title "Four types of people."

Steve reads data from the slate and says
WILLING PARTICIPANTS. 65 percent OF US. THAT'S SELF EXPLANATORY. WE ARE WILLINGLY GOING ON WITH WHAT OUR GOVERNMENTS ARE RECOMMENDING. THEN THERE'S A GROUP CALLED RATIONALE EGOISTS. THEY ARE 20 percent. THEY ONLY CARE ABOUT THEIR OWN SELF-INTERESTS TO THE EXCLUSION OF EVERYONE ELSE. THEN THERE ARE TWO OTHER GROUPS, THE ALTRUISTS AT 7.5 percent AND THE PUNISHERS AT 7.5 percent. IT'S THESE LATTER TWO GROUPS THAT MAKE UP 15 percent OF THE POPULATION THAT WE NEED SOME MORE INFORMATION ABOUT. WHO ARE THE ALTRUISTS AND THE PUNISHERS?

Melanee says THE FIRST THING I WOULD SAY IS THESE ARE IDEAL DISTRIBUTIONS. IF WE GET EVERYTHING RIGHT ABOUT COVID-19, THESE ARE THE THINGS WE'RE GOING TO SEE. ALTRUISTS WILL BE MOTIVATED BY DOING GOOD THINGS FOR OTHER PEOPLE. IN THE CONTEXT OF COVID-19, THEY ARE THE ONES WHO WOULD BE MAKING FACE MASKS IN THEIR KITCHEN AND SENDING THEM OUT FOR FREE TO FOLKS, MAKING BAGGED LUNCHES FOR ANYBODY WHO NEEDS IT. ALONG THOSE LINES. THEY'RE GIVEN SPACE TO DO THEIR THING. IF YOU COMPARE IT TO RECYCLING, THEY COLLECT OTHER PEOPLE'S BOTTLES FOR THEM AND THEN GIVE THE MONEY TO CHARITY, RIGHT? WE ALL KNOW FOLKS LIKE THIS. THEY'RE NOT THE MAJORITIES BUT WE ALL KNOW PEOPLE LIKE THIS. PUNISHERS I FIND REALLY INTERESTING. PUNISHERS ARE THE PEOPLE IN LAB STUDIES WHO WILL ACTUALLY SPEND THEIR OWN MONEY OUT OF THEIR OWN POCKET TO TRY TO PUNISH SOMEBODY WHO REFUSES TO FOLLOW THE RULES. SO THEY'RE TRYING TO PUNISH SOMEBODY WHO FREE RIDES TO TRY TO MAXIMIZE WHATEVER BENEFIT THEY CAN GET FOR THEMSELVES. AND WHEN WE THINK ABOUT... IT'S INTERESTING, SINCE WE WROTE THIS PIECE, ANGER HAS SHIFTED AWAY FROM THE EGOIST TOWARDS THE SNITCH LINES, AND I FIND THIS EVOLUTION KIND OF INTERESTING. BUT ONE OF THE THINGS THAT WE WANT TO COMMUNICATE VERY CLEARLY IS WE'RE JUST IDENTIFYING DIVERSE MOTIVATIONS. WE DON'T REALLY JUDGE THESE MOTIVATIONS IN ANY KIND OF WAY. WE'RE NOT SAYING THAT SOME ARE BETTER THAN OTHERS OR GOOD OR BAD. CLEARLY SOME VIEWERS WILL BE DOING THAT, WHICH IS FAIR. BUT FOR US, WHAT WE WANT TO OBSERVE IS THAT THERE WILL BE PEOPLE WHO WILL FEEL THE NEED TO PUNISH WHAT THEY PERCEIVE AS RULE-BREAKING AND THIS IS WHY WE THINK HAVING REALLY CLEAR, CRYSTAL-CLEAR COMMUNICATION ABOUT WHAT THE RULES ARE AND THEN, IN THE CONTEXT OF A SNITCH LINE, A REALLY TARGETED INSTANCE FOR PEOPLE WHERE PEOPLE CAN CALL IN TO REPORT A VIOLATION, CALLING IN TO REPORT A POACHER, THINKING ABOUT SPECIFIC INCIDENTS OF SAY CRIMESTOPPERS, I'M NOT SURE IF THEY HAVE THAT IN ONTARIO, BUT IT'S A KIND OF CRIME INFORMATION LINE THAT WE HAVE OUT HERE TOO. THESE ARE I THINK THE BEST INSTANCES WHERE WE SEE PUBLIC POLICY ALREADY USING THE MOTIVATION THAT EXISTS AMONGST WHAT WE CALL THE PUNISHERS. I'M SYMPATHETIC TO PEOPLE WHO WANT TO SAY THIS IS A KIND OF COUNTER-DEMOCRATIC THAT COULD BE USED IN A NEFARIOUS WAY, WHICH IS WHY THE BOUNDARIES ON THE ABILITY FOR PEOPLE TO ACTUALLY EXERT THIS KIND OF PUNISHING DRIVE IS REALLY LIMITED. IN THE ABSENCE OF THIS, IN THE ABSENCE OF ACTUALLY A PUBLICLY SANCTIONED OR POLICY SANCTIONED WAY OF DOING THIS, OUR WORRY IS SOME PEOPLE WILL DESCEND INTO BEING VIGILANTES, WHICH IS A WORST CASE SCENARIO IN OUR VIEW. PART OF THIS IS FIGURING OUT HOW WE CAN BALANCE MOTIVATIONS TO HAVE A COMPLETE POLICY RESPONSE TO AVOID... OR TO MINIMIZE THE MOST KIND OF AUTHORITARIAN OR COERCIVE KINDS OF POLICIES.

Steve says IF YOU HAD BROKEN DOWN THESE GROUPS ACCURATELY AND THESE ARE THE CORRECT NUMBERS, IT SUGGESTS THAT THE SNITCH LINES ARE NOT GOING TO BE VERY MUCH USED BECAUSE ONLY 7.5 percent OF THE POPULATION FEEL THE NEED TO PUNISH, RIGHT?

Melanee says THE WILLING PARTICIPANTS DO NEED TO SEE THE PUNISHING HAPPENING, AS DO THE EGOISTS. THIS IS WHY WE PRESENT THESE DISTRIBUTIONS AS IDEAL, BECAUSE ONCE PARTICIPANTS DON'T WANT TO FEEL THEY'RE STUPID SHEEP. SO IF THEY FEEL SOMEBODY ACTING IN THEIR SHORT-TERM SELF-INTEREST, NOT PUTTING THEMSELVES OUT, DOING THE PHYSICAL DISTANCING, THINGS ALONG THOSE LINES, IF THIS IS WHAT THE PARTICIPANT IS SEEING PREDOMINANTLY AND THEY SEE IT BEING UNSANCTIONED, THEY'LL SAY WHY AM I THE FOOL FOLLOWING THESE? NOBODY WANTS TO DO THIS. I'M GOING TO STOP DOING THIS. THE THING WITH THE WILLING PARTICIPANTS IS THEY WILL GO WITH WHAT THEY PERCEIVE TO BE THE PREDOMINANT SOCIAL NORM AND IT'S USUALLY THE EGOISTS THAT WILL UPSET THE PARTICIPANTS. BUT THE EGOISTS NEED TO HAVE THE THREAT OF SANCTION BE REAL, WHICH MEANS EITHER THEY NEED TO BE SANCTIONED DIRECTLY, SO IT NEEDS TO BE ACTIVE, OR THEY NEED TO SEE THE SANCTION FOR THEM TO SAY IT REALLY IS IN MY SHORT-TERM SELF-INTERESTS TO ACTUALLY FOLLOW THE RULES. IF YOU GET MORE EGOISTS TO FOLLOW THE LINE... THE PUNISHERS ARE SMALL. THE THREAT OF SANCTION AND THE PUBLIC APPLICATION OF SANCTIONS FOR PEOPLE WHO ARE, SAY, HAVING HOUSE PARTIES WITHOUT MAINTAINING PHYSICAL DISTANCING, THINGS ALONG THOSE LINES, THIS IS WHY THAT BECOMES IMPORTANT.

Steve says NOW, WE'VE SEEN LOTS OF EXAMPLES OF HOW GENEROSITY CAN BECOME SOCIALLY CONTAGIOUS, BUT CAN BEING SELFISH ALSO BECOME SOCIALLY CONTAGIOUS?

Melanee says THIS IS ONE OF THE CRUXES OF OUR ARGUMENTS. IF ALL SOMEBODY SEES IS PEOPLE ACTING IN THEIR SHORT-TERM SELF-INTEREST, SO NOT MAINTAINING PHYSICAL DISTANCING, NOT STAYING AT HOME AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE IN THE COVID-19 CONTEXT, THERE ARE ANY NUMBER OF OTHER EXAMPLES THAT ABOUND, YOU SEE PEOPLE EXCEEDING ALL OF THE TIME, SAY, AND YOU NEVER SEE ANYBODY GETTING CAUGHT. THIS IS A GOOD EXAMPLE TOO OF... I DON'T WANT TO SAY IT'S A LEAD-FOLLOWER EFFECT OR MONKEY SEE, MONKEY DO, BUT IN A CONTEXT LIKE THIS YOU NEED THE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF PEOPLE FOLLOWING THE RULES AS CLOSELY AS POSSIBLE, THEN RULE-BREAKING BECOMES REALLY DANGEROUS, PRECISELY BECAUSE PEOPLE WILL FOLLOW THE... THEY'LL FOLLOW WHAT THEY SEE THE MOST. SO YOU CAN IMAGINE THAT THERE'S GOING TO BE POCKETS WHERE YOU'RE GOING TO BE MORE LIKELY TO SEE RULE BREAKING THAN RULE FOLLOWING, AND THIS IS WHY THE SANCTIONS ON THAT BEHAVIOUR HAVE BEEN ESCALATING OVER TIME AND THIS IS ALSO WHY WE ARGUE THAT PROVIDING SPACE FOR PEOPLE WHO WANT TO... OR NEED TO, BECAUSE THAT'S HOW THEIR BRAINS WORK, NEED TO EXERT THAT KIND OF PUNISHMENT IS KEY. NOW, THE ONE THING I WANT TO ACKNOWLEDGE EXPLICITLY IS NOBODY LIKES TO BE SANCTIONED. NOBODY LIKES TO GET A SPEEDING TICKET. NOBODY LIKES THE IDEA THAT SOMEBODY IS CALLING THEM OUT FOR A PERCEIVED RULE VIOLATION. IT MAKES PEOPLE REALLY ANGRY TO BE ON THE RECEIVING END OF THIS, JUST AS IT MAKES PEOPLE ANGRY TO WATCH THE RULE-BREAKING HAPPENING IN PERSON. FOR ME, A GOOD EXAMPLE IS I'M A WRITER. CALGARY HAS AN EXTENSIVE PATH SYSTEM ALONG THE RIVER NETWORK. THERE ARE SOME SECTIONS OF THE PATH WHERE IT'S EASY TO GET TWO METRES OF DISTANCE BETWEEN PEOPLE. AND YESTERDAY WHEN I WAS ON MY RUN, THERE WERE SEVERAL PEOPLE WHO... THEY HAD THE SPACE AND THEY REFUSED TO USE IT. IN MY HEAD I'M THINKING, YOU SHOULD TELL THEM THAT THEY'RE LEAVING HALF THE SPACE THAN THEY SHOULD. AND THE SOCIAL SANCTION FOR ME, THE SOCIAL NORM AGAINST CALLING SOMEBODY OUT WAS STRONGER THAN THE NEW SOCIAL NORMS THAT WE'RE TRYING TO BUILD. SO THIS SUGGESTS TO ME THAT I'M PROBABLY NOT A PUNISHER, WHICH I THINK I PROBABLY ALREADY KNEW. AND SO THIS IS THE THING. I THINK PEOPLE WHO ARE CONCERNED ABOUT THIS BEING ALL ABOUT VIGILANTES OR PEOPLE REALLY WANTING TO REALLY BE TERRIBLE TO THEIR NEIGHBOURS, WE THINK YOU CAN MITIGATE THIS BY HAVING THESE CLEAR RULES WITH CLEAR SANCTIONS THAT ARE CLEARLY COMMUNICATED. IT'S THE CLEAR, OPEN COMMUNICATION THAT'S THE ABSOLUTELY MANDATORY THING TO BUILD TRUST ACROSS EVERYONE. IN THE ABSENCE OF THAT TRUST, THIS IS WHEN WE START TO REALLY RUN INTO PROBLEMS, AND IN THE ABSENCE OF CLARITY AND PRECISION, THIS IS WHEN THINGS LIKE SNITCH LINES CAN BE USED FOR REALLY NEFARIOUS GROUNDS. ON THE OTHER HAND, I WOULD POINT OUT THAT WE HAVE LOTS OF THESE LINES. PEOPLE DON'T LIKE THEM BECAUSE I THINK THAT THEY'RE WORRIED... THEY NORMALLY DON'T GET CALLED OUT ARE SUDDENLY GOING TO GET CALLED OUT ABOUT THIS, CONTRASTED TO, SAY, OTHER FOLKS. IF YOU'RE LOOKING AT, SAY, RACIALIZED POPULATIONS, THEY'RE HEAVILY POLICED ALREADY, WHICH MEANS I CAN UNDERSTAND THAT CONCERNS THAT EXIST AMONGST THOSE COMMUNITIES PERSIST IN THIS PARTICULAR CONTEXT, WHICH IS WHY WE REALLY WANT CRYSTAL CLEAR COMMUNICATION, REALLY NARROW BOUNDARIES ABOUT WHEN IT'S EXPECTED THAT THIS STUFF SHOULD BE USED.

Steve says WELL, AND THEY CAN BE VEHICLES FOR MUCH MISCHIEF-MAKING AND THAT IS ONE OF THE POINTS THAT... I DON'T KNOW IF YOU KNOW MICHAEL BRYANT, BUT HE USED TO BE THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF ONTARIO, HE'S NOW THE HEAD OF THE CANADIAN CIVIL LIBERTIES ASSOCIATION, AND HE RECENTLY SAID THAT SNITCH LINES ARE NOTORIOUSLY UNRELIABLE AND BAD GOVERNMENT POLICY. HE SAID THEY'RE AN OUTLET FOR RAGE AND ANXIETY AND BASICALLY NOT WORTH MUCH MORE THAN THAT. WHAT'S YOUR RESPONSE TO THAT?

Melanee says BUT IT'S TOTALLY NORMAL FOR PEOPLE TO BE FEELING A LOT OF ANXIETY RIGHT NOW. AND SO HAVING THE ABILITY FOR THAT COMMUNICATION TO BE AS OPEN AS POSSIBLE... SO I ALWAYS COME BACK TO COMMUNICATION ON THIS ONE, AND I THINK THAT WOULD BE CONSISTENT WITH CIVIL LIBERTIES, IT WOULD BE CONSISTENT OF MY READ OF HOW CANADA HAS DONE RACE-BASED LEGISLATION SINCE THE INTRODUCTION OF THE CHARTER. HAVING OPEN COMMUNICATION WILL REDUCE THAT ANXIETY. HAVING MEANINGFUL SANCTIONS THAT ARE CONSISTENTLY APPLIED TO PEOPLE WHO DON'T FOLLOW THE RULES THAT WE'RE ALL ASKED TO FOLLOW THE RULES WILL MINIMIZE THE RAGE. AND SO IF THERE'S CLEAR MEDIA COMMUNICATION, SAY, OF RULE-BREAKING HAPPENED HERE. THIS IS THE SANCTION THAT WAS APPLIED. IT'S VERY PUBLIC. AGAIN, THE COMMUNICATION IS OPEN AND CLEAR AND CONTEXTUALIZED. THAT WILL MINIMIZE THE ANGER. AND I THINK WHERE THINGS GET A LITTLE BIT FUZZY, AND THIS IS THE REALLY CHALLENGING PART FOR COVID-19, IS THERE'S SIMPLY A LOT THAT WE DON'T KNOW ABOUT WHAT'S GOING ON WITH THE VIRUS OR THE BEST WAY TO DEAL WITH IT. SO I HAVE SOME FOLKS THAT ARE SAYING, WE SHOULD ALL BE WEARING MASKS EVEN THOUGH THE EVIDENCE IS REALLY QUITE MURKY ABOUT THAT. WHAT PEOPLE ARE PINNING HOPES ON HERD IMMUNITY AND AGAIN THE EVIDENCE... THERE ARE JUST A LOT OF THINGS WHERE THE ACTUAL RESEARCH-BASED ANSWER IS, WE SIMPLY DON'T KNOW. AND SO IT'S HARD TO HAVE AS CLEAR AND AS OPEN COMMUNICATION AS I THINK WE NEED TO MINIMIZE THE ANXIETY AND TO MINIMIZE THE ANGER, BUT THE GOAL SHOULD ALWAYS BE TO MINIMIZE THE ANXIETY AND TO MINIMIZE THE ANGER. SO THE SOLUTION ISN'T THE SNITCH LINE. BUT THE REAL MECHANISM NEEDS TO REST FOR EVERYBODY ON THE REALLY CLEAR OPEN COMMUNICATION. THAT'S HOW THE TRUST IS BUILT. AND THEN FOR SOME FOLKS, THEY NEED THE SANCTION. THAT WAS OUR FOCUS WHEN WE WROTE THE COLUMN, IS THE WHY DO SOME PEOPLE NEED THE SANCTIONS? WHY ARE SOME PEOPLE PREPARED TO FOLLOW THE RECOMMENDATIONS JUST BECAUSE IT SEEMS LIKE A GOOD IDEA AND ARE MOTIVATED BY THE, WE'RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER. WHEREAS SOME FOLKS ARE MORE MOTIVATED BY I NEED YOU TO MAKE IT IMPORTANT FOR ME IN THE SHORT TERM TO DO THESE SORTS OF THINGS.

The caption changes to "Producer: Wodek Szemberg, @wodekszemberg."

Steve says YOU CERTAINLY HAVE BEEN CLEAR AND OPEN. WE'RE GRATEFUL FOR THAT. MELANEE THOMAS FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF CALGARY. THANKS FOR COMING ON TVO TONIGHT. WE APPRECIATE YOUR TIME.

Melanee says THANKS FOR HAVING ME.

Watch: Will COVID-19 Create a Nation of Snitches?