COMMENT

New Zealand police were getting so many calls from people telling on their neighbours, they had to launch an online tool to cope with the influx of messages.

The tool, launched at 1pm on Sunday, crashed almost immediately and still received more than 4200 reports in the first 24 hours.

Were there really 4200 instances of people breaking the rules? Probably not.

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Police Commissioner Mike Bush himself said some of the reports were pretty general - things like "there's people at the beach". Others used the tool to report people jogging or walking their dogs in their neighbourhood.

Reports like that contributed towards overloading the system to the point it crashed and, in the meantime, helped a grand total of precisely no one.

New Zealanders should be very careful using this tool to tell on each other. The tool should only be used if you're certain what you are witnessing violates lockdown rules and puts public safety at risk.

At a time like this, with emotions running so high, it's easy to feel that by reporting someone doing something you don't think they should be doing you're actively helping break the chain of transmission - but that's not necessarily the case.

It's a reactive response, and we should, as much as possible, focus on proactive responses, like trying to impress upon those around us the importance of following the rules and staying at home.

A pitchfork is not a known cure for coronavirus and anything that fuels a mob mentality should be taken with the biggest grain of salt.

We don't know how long we'll be in lockdown for. It could be four weeks, it could be longer. What society do we want to have after that?

I know what you're thinking: one that's not ravaged by Covid-19. Me too. But remember you're saving lives by staying home, not by telling on your neighbours.

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I'm not talking about 60-people house parties in the middle of a lockdown - there is no grey line about the fact that something of that magnitude should not be going on right now.

But I'm talking about the people in local Facebook groups losing their minds at the families out for walks ("do they really all live together? Hmm? Hmm? How do we know for sure?") or the person who's almost, probably, kind of pretty sure that they saw someone go for a walk with someone probably maybe not in their bubble.

Sure, there's been some downright idiotic things like that big hostel party in Queenstown or St Patrick's Day party in the middle of a pandemic (that then led to a cluster of cases in Matamata). But, for the most part, Kiwis seem to be doing their bit.

Bush himself said "the vast majority of Kiwis" have been complying with the lockdown brilliantly.

Most of the people who I've seen admitting to breaking the rules online have also admitted they didn't really understand the rules - and therefore didn't realise they were breaking them.

I saw one person saying they don't read the news at all and another one saying he only watches the first 10 minutes of it. As much as, in my wildest dreams, those should be criminal offences, they're not. Not watching the news, at a time like this in particular, is just spectacularly dumb and irresponsible - but I won't report you to police for it. I'll judge you silently, from the safety of my bubble.

We're supposed to be supporting each other - instead, we seem to be encouraged to turn on each other.

It's worrying enough that this pandemic forced us to stop hugging, to even stop shaking hands. It's forced us to stop funerals, weddings and all manner of other celebrations. It's forced us to press "pause" on too many of the things that are at the core of what makes humanity fundamentally ... human.

Seeing worrying rises in anxiety related to Covid-19, experts everywhere are urging people to "focus on the things they can control".

That's what I am doing. I can control whether I leave the house or not.

I can't control what some idiotic people do.

I can plead with them to stay home - and I will. But whether they do or don't is still firmly none of my business and one of the freedoms they still have is the freedom to be complete and utter morons, if they so wish to be.

I'm doing my job, which is staying home. Police can very well do theirs.

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website