A woman went on a racist rant in a pizza shop. TikTok vigilantes went after three innocent accountants
Published in Lifestyles
PHILADELPHIA — Candice Bogar changed her name because she didn't want to be called a Karen, but that hasn't stopped the internet from doing so.
Bogar, who legally changed her name in 2021, did not want to be associated with the archetypical name for someone perceived as a white woman of privilege. Yet, that pejorative — and a bigot — are all she has been called on the internet since being mistaken for a woman who spewed xenophobic vitriol at a Hatboro pizza shop owner last month.
"This was hate I've never been exposed to before," said Bogar, 55, the president of the Jenkintown accounting firm Bogar & Associates Inc.
After a video of a woman's racist rant inside Amy's Family Pizzeria went viral on Reddit and TikTok in February, the internet was in pursuit of Rita Bellew, who called owner Omar Quiñonez an un-American "ignoramus" for playing Spanish-language television in his shop. Bellew, 55, was later charged with ethnic intimidation and harassment.
But before the Hatboro police publicly identified Bellew and TikTok found her Facebook page, several Twitter and TikTok accounts doxxed Bogar, then Sally Poppert and Tracey Gaida — three women who have nothing in common with Bellew other than being blond accountants employed in Montgomery County.
The release of their phone numbers and home and work addresses exposed these women to threatening phone calls and emails that left them fearing for their jobs and safety. After identifying Bellew but before releasing her name, the Hatboro Police Department issued two warnings to stop harassing the doxxed women.
Amy's Family Pizzeria also issued a since-deleted statement that asked people to "stop accusing innocent people" of racism.
The hunt for Bellew and its unintended consequences reveal the precarity of digital vigilantism, where content creators must balance disillusionment with systems of power and a desire for accountability on the internet, which tends to reward speed and ease over accuracy.
Bogar, Poppert, and Gaida's misfortune gains new importance as the U.S. Supreme Court decides two cases that could force platforms to be held liable for user-generated content, which raises questions, such as: Who's at fault when the pursuit for justice goes rogue? And is the ever-messy internet a viable accountability mechanism, even when faith in authority is low?
For Bogar, Poppert, and Gaida, the answer is no.
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