Coronavirus vigilantes, who last year became known for harassing those who refused to comply with central and local government requests to stay at home or suspend business operations, have kept a surprisingly low profile during the current state of emergency.
The vigilantes, referred to by some as "self-restraint police officers," increased around the time of the first state of emergency last spring, which covered the whole country, and the coined term became a major buzzword in 2020.
The self-appointed vigilantes posted notes on stores demanding that they close, even on those that had already suspended operations, and vandalized vehicles with license plates from other prefectures.
A man was arrested on suspicion of property destruction after he kicked and broke the door of a gym that remained open.
However, such coronavirus vigilantism has not been observed widely during the current state of emergency, in place for 11 prefectures, including Tokyo.
This is likely to be because many of the vigilantes have lost confidence in what they believed to be "justice," experts say.
Doshisha University professor Hajime Ota, who specializes in organization theory and studies the relationship between the individual and society, believes that COVID-19 vigilantism has dwindled because the vigilantes "have lost confidence after their actions, based on their self-righteous sense of justice, were criticized and failed to obtain approval from the general public."
"At the same time, they've learned that there are diverse values," Ota added.
"With many people not complying with authorities' requests (under the current state of emergency), which are vague in the first place, the vigilantes have been unable to regain confidence in their sense of justice," Ota said.
Ota noted that another possible factor behind the suppressed vigilantism is that people now have less fear and anxiety about becoming infected with the novel coronavirus, due to a better understanding of COVID-19.
Mafumi Usui, a social psychology professor at Niigata Seiryo University's graduate school, said cases of coronavirus vigilantism have decreased thanks in part to the government considering imposing penalties on businesses that refuse to follow authorities' requests for shorter business hours or temporary closures.
The talk about penalizing violators has helped reduce vigilantes' anger as they now feel their feelings are being understood, Usui said.
However, Usui warned of a possible increase in vigilantes if the penalties are actually introduced. "Their thinking would be, 'If the law can't crack down on violators, then I'll have to bring them to justice myself.'"
Usui pointed out that people who are energetic and have a strong sense of self-righteous conscience and anxiety tend to become vigilantes.
He called on people to "stay calm and keep away from impulsive behavior."
"Acts of public shaming that violate human rights cannot be tolerated," he said.
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