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Hundreds of Missouri residents who reported community members for allegedly not following coronavirus guidelines are worried about backlash after their personal information was made public.
An effort by St. Louis County to get residents to “snitch” on individuals and businesses who violated social distancing and lockdown orders amid the coronavirus pandemic seems to have backfired after the names and addresses of about 900 people were released on social media.
More than 900 tips in the community led to 29 businesses receiving citations last month but many of those who called in and wrote at the government’s urging did not expect their complaints — and their personal information — to become public, KSDK-TV reported.
The information was released after a request under the state’s Sunshine Law, which ensures transparency in government business. While many tipsters asked to remain anonymous in submitting their emailed entries, apparently they did not pay attention to the fine print in the terms and conditions that noted their information may be shared publicly.
“I’m not only worried about COVID, I’m worried about someone showing up at my door, showing up at my workplace or me getting fired for doing what is right,” a woman named Patricia, who filed a tip, told KSDK in a video interview.
“When there is something that happens next time, I’m not going to feel safe or protected enough to call the local authorities,” she said.
“We’re in a society where doing what’s right doesn’t always get rewarded,’ she said. ‘We have to be extra careful because we don’t have the strength to fight this,” Patricia, who has Lupus and lives with others who have auto-immune diseases, claimed.
“I saw a lot of businesses that were non-essential that were open and had lines outside, parking lots filled as if the order didn’t matter to them. And that was kinda frustrating,” she added.
The hundreds of tips were made public and then further spread when Jared Totsch shared the list on Facebook.
“Here ya go. The gallery of snitches, busybodies, and employees who rat out their own neighbors and employers over the Panic-demic,” Totsch wrote.
The online form that St. Louis County provided included a disclaimer that had to be acknowledged by those submitting a tip.
“I have been advised that this form and any other communication may be considered an open record pursuant to the Sunshine Law, Chapter 610 RSMo. St. Louis County may be required to release this form as well as other communications as a matter of law upon request by any member of the public, including the media,” the form read.
St. Louis County executive’s director of communications, Doug Moore, told KSDK why the personal information was not redacted.
“In this particular instance, our county counselor’s office consulted with the [attorney general]’s office on releasing the list of those who had filed complaints against county businesses,’ Moore wrote.
“We were told all the information was public and we should not redact (except for HIPAA information),” he added. “Withholding information goes against what journalists push us to be – as transparent as possible.”
Totsch, who declined an interview with the news outlet, said in a message that he had shared the list as a way to “discourage” people in the future from reporting members of their own community during the emergency.
“If they are worried about retaliation, they should have read the fine print which stated their tips would be open public record subject to a Sunshine request, and should not have submitted tips in that manner to begin with,” Totsch wrote. “I released the info in an attempt to discourage such behavior in the future.”
Asked about the potential of someone who submitted a tip losing his or her job as a result of the publication, he added: “I’d call it poetic justice, instant Karma, a dose of their own medicine. What goes around, comes around. They are now experiencing the same pain that they themselves helped to inflict on those they filed complaints against.”
For Patricia, the incident has made her think twice about reaching out to authorities and had an angry message for those spreading the document on social media.
“What did you get out of sharing the info on who did it?” she said to KSDK. “It’s asinine and I have to question, whoever shared the list… what were your motives?”
“When there is something that happens next time, I’m not going to feel safe or protected enough to call the local authorities,” she added.
But Patricia, and others who chose to rat out local business owners, employers and neighbors got no sympathy from social media users.
My momma always told me to not tattletale and to mind my own business 🤷♀️
— summer 2013 (@Ecsullie) May 4, 2020
What goes around comes around The snitches got snitched. SMH.
— 👩🏾 JilTweet (@JilTweet) May 4, 2020
— Irex (@Irex64181849) May 4, 2020
Gee, snitches are so brave when they think THEY won’t have to face any consequences for their behavior, aren’t they? Not so brave now 😂
— AmeriCat🇺🇸First!🇺🇸🇺🇸VSG🇺🇸NotABot (@CarolM39) May 4, 2020
consequences & karma…
— Lotsa Snuggs (@LotsaSnuggs) May 4, 2020
Are we supposed to feel sympathy for snitches now?
— Sandy (@SWSandy_) May 4, 2020
Next time don’t act like a brown shirt
— Son-of-Liberty (@Michael__TS_) May 4, 2020
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