Coronavirus leads to worrying rise in social shaming

As Japan continues to fight the coronavirus, fears about the spread of the virus have led to a rise in a troubling form of vigilantism. People throughout the country are taking to social media to name and shame individuals and businesses that are not complying with government requests.

Late last month, The Japanese Red Cross Society posted a video on YouTube titled "What comes after the virus?" It's part of the group's efforts against social shaming and has already been viewed nearly two million times.

The video makes the argument that one of the biggest dangers of the outbreak is the fear it sows, how it turns people against each other and destroys the trust that serves as the fabric of any society.

Earlier this month, NHK reported on an incident where a man contacted local authorities after seeing someone in a convenience store talking on his phone while not wearing a mask.
"I work at a nursing home and my experiences on the job made me feel like I had to act," the man told NHK. "I'm always careful around the elderly people at work. I couldn't bear the sight of someone completely disregarding everyone's efforts. I don't support social shaming, but I think it's the only thing ordinary people can do."

In some cases, this sense of duty has claimed innocent victims. On April 28th, a warning was posted on the entrance to a live music bar in Tokyo. It read, "Please close. We will call the police if you're open next time."

But the bar was not open to the public; it had stopped serving customers after the Tokyo government issued a voluntary closure request. On that day, it happened to be streaming a concert inside. No customers were allowed. The bar had contacted officials beforehand and taken measures to ensure ventilation and adequate disinfection.

"I understand that whoever posted the sign did so out of a sense of justice," the manager said. "But still, I wish people would try to be more understanding."

"Please close. We will call the police if you're open next time." A warning was placed on the door of a live music bar in Tokyo.

In one case, social shaming has led to criminal prosecution. A man in the northern prefecture of Yamagata was prosecuted for disinformation after naming a restaurant on Twitter as a source of infection. "Please avoid this restaurant because a person was infected there," the post read. "It's a nest for the virus." The man is facing charges of fraudulent obstruction of business.

"The coronavirus outbreak is causing people to feel restless and uncertain," says Usui Mafumi, an expert in social psychology. "This fear causes us to view others as threats. When the mind is in such a stressed state, it tends toward division and judgement. We need to all be aware of the harm this can cause."

With most experts saying that a vaccine is at least a year away, the coronavirus—and social shaming—will continue to weigh on Japanese society for some time. But the Red Cross video makes the point that the country will make it through if people stick together and do their part. And this message of solidarity is why the video has struck a chord with so many people.

"Appreciate and respect each other," it says. "Let's all stick together and be stronger and smarter than fear."