“Sociologist Patrick Bergemann, author of “Judge Thy Neighbor,” a book that analyzes denunciations in Inquisition-era Spain, Imperial Russia and Nazi Germany, said that snitching and semi-authoritarian behavior often surge in times of crisis.
“Fear-based denunciations are motivated by a perceived threat against individual or common safety,” he said. “Traditionally, they’ve been targeted against a group — outsiders, immigrants — but in this case people are afraid of a virus, so it’s less clear-cut.”
Bergemann, an assistant professor of organizations and strategy at the University of Chicago, said that fear-based snitching is often also tainted by spite, with many attempting to settle old scores by filing reports — including false ones — against rivals.
“In Nazi Germany, 42 percent of the denunciations were false. Authorities debated changing the system, but they ultimately decided to keep it because it was great for keeping everyone in line.”