In recent weeks we’ve seen the verb ‘to flout’ tossed around with gusto. It has been scripted into a noun to describe “arrogant, selfish and moronic lock-down sinners” for breaking social distancing rules.

Since lock-down measures were implemented on 23 March, public shaming has become, like the lock-down itself, a new norm. Some are guilty of breaking the ‘rules’, while others have become targets for public shaming when guilty of exercising, going to work or delivering supplies.

The government’s vague and ever-changing message on how Britain can shield itself from the virus has inevitably led to ‘flouters’. As well as implementing hazy quarantine rules that are open to violation, the government has paid a key part in building the narrative to label people “very selfish” – health secretary Matt Hancock’s words – for straying off the ambiguous lock-down path.

In the same way the populist, right-wing press lapped up the Tories’ labelling of benefits claimants as “scroungers”, the media has been quick to brand flouters “selfish”.   

Ambiguous

MPs and the media’s reactionary response to those straying from an ambiguous set of rules implemented at government level has filtered into the public.  

The countryside, where open spaces and sparser crowds create a favourable environment for social distancing, has been a hot spot for over-zealous lock-down vigilantes to point the finger at ‘covidiots’.

Unlike the comparative anonymity of urban living, where citizens can cultivate strong community ties on their own terms, no-one has that luxury in small rural communities.

In the countryside, everyone knows your business, whether you want them to or not. In rural communities, where anonymity is sparse, curtain-twitching neighbours are enjoying their finest hour, dancing on the moral high ground.

Image by Mabel Amber from Pixabay

Angry villagers

From angry villagers building roadblocks to stop cyclists to irate farmers hurling abuse at families walking, a rural corner of north west Derbyshire has been a hub for ‘covidiot’ vigilantes.

One startling case involved two key workers who identify themselves as socially responsible and adhere to social distancing rules.

The family drove ten minutes from their home to take their mountain bikes out. On returning to their car, they found a flyer stuck to their windscreen featuring a Derbyshire police logo stating they shouldn’t be there and were putting the community at risk. The namers and shamers went further, slashing the car’s tyres and effectively putting the key workers’ car out of action.

A similar incident occurred in the Lake District, where an abhorrent note was pinned to a family’s car. Their crime? To drive four miles so they could go for a walk.

Name and shame

Another name and shame incident that whipped the do-gooders into a frenzy on social media occurred in Bournemouth.  An unsuspecting family had their photo splashed across Facebook for all and sundry to show their disapprovement.

The perpetrator of the online attack owned the farm the family had strayed on while enjoying a walk in the countryside.

The online rant labelled them “selfish” and “thoughtless”, despite the family insisting they were lost and thought they were on a footpath. That’s a mistake anyone could make. Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty by the way?

Aggressive responses by police to lock-down ‘wrongdoers’ have given overzealous ‘outers’ greater ammunition to point the finger.

In late March, Derbyshire police tweeted drone footage of people parking at a beauty spot in the Peak District. Some of the were cars registered to addresses in Sheffield – a 30-minute drive away.

The deployment of drones to catch lock-down ‘sinners’ was criticised for its sinister, ‘big brother’ approach.

In what Red Pepper editor Siobhán McGuirk described as a “classic Conservative move” – blaming the people for the government’s failing – the public shaming of people looks set to intensify as lock-down slowly lifts.

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