What’s behind Tucker’s Facebook fixation?
Every city has some form of communication that ties its Ecitizens together. For some it’s the hyperlocal social media site NextDoor. Other areas rely on a good old-fashioned email list. In Tucker, the forum that disseminates the most information to the most people is Facebook. And that’s true by a wide margin.
In anything, Facebook has its pluses and its minuses. For every story you hear about someone reconnecting with an old high school friend, there’s one about cyberbullying. The sharing of fake news is rampant. People are signing off the site in record numbers.
But Tucker is an example of a place where Facebook, while not perfect, is doing a lot of good. It’s building community, connecting neighbors and promoting important causes. To understand Tucker’s Facebook fixation, you first have to learn how it all got started.
A decade ago, Tucker Civic Association was struggling. Membership numbers were stagnant, and the group was looking for ways to increase participation in its many volunteer events. Anita Stoltzfus chaired the Membership Committee at the time and remembers looking for ways to get volunteers to sign up for the monthly Give an Hour outings.
“Initially, we needed a platform to get the word out,” Stoltzfus recalls. “We wanted to get more new members and get more people to participate in TCA. At the time, the younger generation was utilizing Facebook. That was their thing. I saw it as a way to connect the younger generation with the older generation.”
Facebook was a household name in 2010, but it hardly resembled the global behemoth that it is today, as it boasts over 2.3 billion users. The idea that this social media channel would grow involvement in a group like TCA wasn’t exactly a forgone conclusion. But the more Stoltzfus thought about it, the more she started to look at the bigger picture of how this system of likes and shares could eventually connect the entire community.
Thus, was born Tucker Town Talk. As strangers became neighbors and neighbors became friends and friends recommended the group to other friends, Tucker Town Talk went from a small, civic-minded effort to one that was well-known and even influential throughout the community. While that growth on the surface was a positive, for Stoltzfus it became taxing.
“I work half the time and volunteer half the time,” she explains, saying that being a Facebook administrator is like taking on a second full-time job. “It’s kept me up plenty of nights eating dinner at 11 o’clock at night because I’m putting out fires on Tucker Town Talk.”
The “fires” she refers to could be name calling between users, users slamming a local business or the talk getting a little too political. All are no-no’s on Tucker Town Talk and have been from Day One.
“People like to stir the pot,” Stoltzfus says. “If people can’t behave after you’ve told them two or three times, just remove them.”
While many Tucker Town Talk members are grateful for the positivity of the group’s posting guidelines, it left others looking for avenues to vent. And so, Tucker’s growing Facebook obsession got even bigger.
Meg Thomas can rattle off a half-dozen Tucker-related Facebook groups that she either started or currently oversees. For her, Facebook has been a way to connect with other moms, entrepreneurs and volunteers throughout the community.
“I have seen how helpful large community Facebook groups can be,” Thomas explains. “I have made honest and true friends and very, very dear ones at that, all because of my exposure on Facebook.”
The group Thomas started that has amassed the biggest following is TGGBU, which stands for Tucker: Genuine, Giving, Benevolent & Upstanding. The group is involved in promoting numerous charitable causes from the schools to the community at large. But for many of its members, its biggest appeal is as a place where you can say pretty much whatever you want.
“Politics was never permitted on other groups,” Thomas explains. “We do not turn anyone away. One basic rule is a common decency one: no threatening someone/someplace and no vulgar name calling.”
Anything else goes and it can get heated. Controversial issues happening in the City, problems in the schools and even issues of national politics draw hundreds of people to comment on a post, sometimes “shouting” in all caps.
While many get their fix on TGGBU, other groups have popped up to offer a similar free-form forum. Groups like Tucker Town Real Talk and Tucker Talk, Anything Goes have smaller followings, but the conversation is just as unfettered and just as intense.
Interestingly, Stoltzfus, who is not a member of any of these groups, looks at their mission and can appreciate that they are filling a void.
“I don’t believe that complaining on social media is constructive. It’s complaining,” she says. “But it’s like having a smoking room in the airport. It’s good to have them so people can get it out if their system.”
From these large groups have come specialty groups; like-minded people who want to connect and enjoy shared interests with new friends. The Tucker Running Club group organizes outings several times a week for group runs throughout town. The Tucker Cluckers group, which Thomas also administers, gives chicken owners a place to ask questions about feed or cold weather care. Tucker Clicks! allows amateur shutterbugs to offer feedback on each other’s photographs, while comparing notes on the latest camera equipment.
One Facebook group that is creating multi-generational friendships is Moms of Tucker. The moms connect in the group and their kids become close friends through playdates and outings. Leigh Ann Millican is a member of the group and offers a laundry list of reasons why she loves it.
“Because it’s free therapy, because it’s hand me downs, because it’s moms supporting moms, because it’s answers to ‘when is school registration’, ‘what kid-friendly events are going on this weekend”, and ‘how does one remove slime from a car seat?’” Millican says. “The group empowers, educates and helps me make playdates. Most importantly, the group feels like a village where we can all contribute and take something away in our ongoing effort to raise heathy and happy children.”
Several years ago, a Tucker Town Talk member made it known that she enjoyed theater and wondered if there was anyone else in the group who might be interested in starting a community theater. That inquiry led to what is today Tucker’s wildly successful Main Street Theatre.
“I’m not sure Tucker becomes a city without Facebook,” says Sonja Szubski.
Szubski, who works for the City now, was one of the leaders of Tucker’s cityhood effort back in 2014 and 2015. She and the other organizers worked at the grassroots level to raise money and disseminate information about the benefits of cityhood, while fighting back against misinformation.
“Facebook was critical for us,” Szubski recalls. “In a community of 35,000, these types of votes can swing on the ability to reach just a small handful of people. Thanks to Tucker Town Talk and other groups, we were able to make our case efficiently and to a wide audience.”
“Facebook is a large means of communication in our City,” Thomas adds. “Every business owner, school, PTA, church, and various volunteer organizations around here all know this and through groups I manage and others like my friend Anita’s group, Tucker Town Talk, they are able to keep a finger on the pulse of the City.”
Meanwhile, Stoltzfus looks at the future and says her very simple mission remains the same.
“If we could inspire one or two or three people,” she says, “it would be worth it. Encourage and inspire others to get involved in our town, whatever their passion is. I want them to do that. Knitting, running, picking up trash, just connect with like-minded residents to start a group. Let’s not talk about our differences, let’s talk about what unites us. It’s unity in community.”
Mark Zuckerberg may have never heard of Tucker, Georgia, but it’s a tight-knit community and his social media platform is a big reason for that.