NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) — Public shaming has taken on a new meaning during the coronavirus outbreak.
Neighbors and strangers nationwide are reporting behavior they believe could jeopardize public safety.
In one local instance, a state agency took to Facebook to publicly call out a North Texas business accused of providing services during the pandemic.
But now the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation is apologizing after the business owner received a deluge of comments.
Brittany Brown uses Facebook to advertise her hair braiding business. But this week brought a flood of negative comments and reviews.
On Monday, the TDLR publicly tagged her professional page after receiving complaints alleging the business was still operating during the pandemic, according to a spokeswoman.
“Please keep yourself and others safe by NOT providing services at this time,” the post read.
But Brown claimed she wasn’t providing services at all.
“I didn’t hear anything from them prior to that tag — no email, no phone call, no anything,” Brown said.
A March 29 post that has since been edited lists open hair appointments for that week.
“Book today,” wrote the administrator, who also urged customers to wash their hands and postpone appointments if they were showing symptoms.
But Brown claimed she scheduled the post to run before Gov. Greg Abbott updated his executive order on March 31, urging everyone but essential workers to stay home and/or suspend services until April. 30.
Brown argued the situation was a misunderstanding. But the post from TDLR quickly generated hundreds of comments.
“I got inboxes saying I’m spreading the virus, I’m putting people at risk, I should be ashamed of myself,” Brown said.
“Selfishly providing services during a pandemic,” read one review on Brown’s page.
“No one will die if they don’t get their hair braided,” another commenter wrote.
In an interview, a TDLR spokeswoman Tela Mange said the agency is now reevaluating how to put businesses on notice moving forward.
“We understand it’s very difficult financially for businesses. But if you’re nonessential, and you’re providing services, you’re breaking the law,” Mange said.
Statewide, Mange said the agency has received nearly 300 calls about wayward businesses violating the executive order.
But on its Facebook, the agency appeared to flag only one page: Styles By Brittany B.
Mange acknowledged that she did not talk to Brown before tagging her business page.
CBS 11 asked if the agency could have handled the situation better.
“It’s possible,” Mange said. “We were looking at a lot of different ways of reaching out and making sure folks know they’re not supposed to be providing services or purchasing services, either.”
The agency removed the tag on Wednesday, writing: “Anyone who is offering to provide [nonessential] services at this time is potentially putting themselves and others at risk.”
“We’re sorry this caused a lot of comments toward her, it’s caused a lot of comments toward us, as well,” Mange said.
Brown edited the posts she said were previously scheduled. But she said the comments still sting.
“I was put through this for an assumption, basically,” she said.
Mange said the TDLR will investigate complaints and refer cases to prosecutors.
Anyone who violates the governor’s executive order could face up to $1,000 in penalties or up to 180 days in jail, in addition to potential TDLR sanctions and administrative fines.