Viral video of a racist rant led people to threaten the wrong business. The owner blames Google.

“I’m doing everything I can to make things clear, but people are just not getting it,” she remembered thinking when people continued their attacks on Mejia despite her clarifications.

Mejia’s son, Nigel Mejia, a manager of the salon, tried to correct the record online — getting his mother’s phone number removed from parts of the internet and flagging the incident to Google through a help portal on their Google Business page.

“I still haven’t gotten an email back to this day,” he said. 

Nigel Mejia was eventually able to get Google to remove the flood of negative reviews from the salon’s Google Business Profile. It currently has a rating of 4.9/5 stars.

Despite their public pleas and attempts to reach Google, they couldn’t push back against the force of the internet. 

Even though some social media platforms have rules against doxxing — publishing someone’s personal information, like a phone number or an address — many creators and users have found ways to circumvent them and have the same effect, such as simply saying someone’s name or business name, which other people can look up themselves.

“We couldn’t handle all that pressure,” Nigel Mejia said. “Me, her and the people that were trying to back her up, like, you know, it was like Instagram wars, Facebook wars, people trying to explain to every single comment that this is the wrong person.”

Image: Nigel Mejia with his mother Iris Mejia.
Nigel Mejia with his mother Iris Mejia.Tina Russell for NBC News

As the days went on, things just got worse. 

Over the phone, several people threatened to burn down Iris Mejia’s salon and home, which she said provoked anxiety because her husband died in a fire. “I went into, like, a big anxiety thing about that, because it was traumatizing, honestly,” she said. 

Her fears weren’t unfounded. Mejia turned off her cellphone and unplugged the store phone, but soon the salon employees started to face physical intimidation and harassment. Mejia said that in one instance, a man stormed into the salon and cursed her out before he ran out.

At that point, Mejia, salon employees and customers began to fear for their safety. Niesluchowski said she began to carry a gun for protection. Mejia was scared more people would come in to harass them — or worse.

“My appointment book was completely full, like, you know, fake appointments,” she said. Mejia feared that more people seeking to harass or harm them would come into the salon. 

Two days after the video went viral, Mejia decided to shut down the salon. “What are we gonna do at this point?” she remembered thinking. “We’re in danger. Our clients are in danger.”

Even with the salon closed, however, people who had seen the video were able to damage Mejia and her business. Two days after the salon closed, it was vandalized with racist graffiti, some of which said “GO BACK TO YOUR CAGE,” “Monkey” and other slurs. 

The Beauty Bar Orlando vandalized with graffiti.
Iris Mejia’s vandalized hair salon.Courtesy Iris Mejia

Iris Mejia said the stress of it all took a toll on her  health, landing her in the hospital for three days. She said she suffers from arthritis, which flared up as pressure from the viral video mounted.

“It really did emotionally affect me in such a horrible way,” she said.

On top of hospital bills, the cost of repainting the salon and lost wages while it was closed, the business took a substantial hit, she said. She said its profits were down $9,000 in July from where they normally are, even as the hate slowed. 

“A lot of people have stopped calling, because they don’t know what’s happening,” she said. “They think, you know, it’s not safe to come back.”

A GoFundMe page for the salon started by Niesluchowski and Iris raised a little over $7,500, but Mejia said that barely covered rent for a month and the costs of repainting the business. 

“It’s a good $6,000 that I’ve had to cough up on my own,” she said

Nigel and Iris blame Google for the mistaken identity and for their slowed business.

“Ninety percent of the new clients, they all said they came from Google,” Nigel Mejia said of their business before the viral video was posted. “So when all the reviews were going, we went from 4.9 to 3 stars overnight.”

Iris said: “If they would have immediately fixed it or put a stop to it or put a caution or something, this wouldn’t have happened. They wouldn’t have been calling me. I think if anything at all, it’s their fault that this happened to me personally.”

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