Facebook groups breathe life into traditional community practices
By WAYLON CUNNINGHAM
David Naylor’s wife was home sick that morning when she heard a noise outside. Someone, very loudly, was attempting to enter a side door. She jumped up to investigative, and her sudden presence in the window sent two men darting back to their black SUV.
At a loss for clues and worried for his neighbors, Naylor shortly after made a Facebook group to spread the word.
“Liberty Hill Friends Against Crime” attracted over 100 members in the first 24 hours. After a few days, 700 members. And now, a year later, over 3,000. By comparison, the population of Liberty Hill proper was less than 1,000 at the last census.
The page offers a bulletin board for residents to read and post on potential crimes in the area. Members write about their missing property, report on trucks known to speed, upload stills from surveillance footage showing alleged shoplifters, and even talk about bullying at the high school.
“It’s the modern version of a neighborhood watch program. When you saw something suspicious, you could pick up a phone. Now everyone has a smart phone. And as soon as someone posts on the page, everyone is going to know about it,” Naylor said.
“Liberty Hill Friends Against Crime” is not the only Facebook group offering a digital update to small town community life in Liberty Hill.
Anna Cummins compares her group, “Liberty Hill, TX,” to the classic image of knocking on a neighbor’s door to ask for a cup of sugar.
“People want to look for resources. They’ll ask, where can I find a good pet groomer? Or good after hours clinic? Someone always seems to know,” she said.
Cummins started the group after moving to the Georgetown area from California so her three sons could experience a small town upbringing, and attend Liberty Hill ISD.
“When my boys began attending Liberty Hill, I didn’t know anyone. Beyond being my sons’ mom, I wanted to have more of a connection with the adults in the area, but that can be hard. Unless you’re at a school function, church or a football game, where do you connect with people here?”
No other Liberty Hill groups existed when she made the group, Cummins says, “although they could have been hidden.”
The group’s members currently number over 2,300, and its page offers a range of content posted by residents in the area. Many stop by just to make a single post announcing an upcoming event, but more active users use the page as a way to more publicly share what the community might enjoy.
Photographs of a baby pig named “Parker the Pig” for instance, started out as semi-regular subject on the group page before its poster started her own dedicated page for the pet.
Cummins also started a “Georgetown, TX” group around the same time as the Liberty Hill group, although that page now has close to 7,000 members.
Naylor, who almost exclusively uses Facebook from his iPhone while working on jobs outside, also manages several other pages. After “Liberty Hill Friends Against Crime,” he started a spin off group called “Liberty Hill Lost Pets” for information and requests about missing pets, as those posts had began to overcrowd what he considered the true intention of his original group, highlighting local crime.
Though these pages mainly serve as, what Cummins calls “reflections,” of the offline community in Liberty Hill, that relationship can go both ways, as the internet takes an increasing role in day-to-day life.
Liberty Hill Police Chief Maverick Campbell warns residents not to mistake posts on the crime watch page for an official report.
“There’s nothing we can do about a crime if you don’t report it,” he said. “But it’s good to get it out there, as long as it doesn’t interfere with an investigation. Remember that criminals have social media, too,” he said.
Although Naylor and Cummins both emphasized that they play a quiet role in moderating their groups, both also reported the uniquely modern experience of being recognized in public for it.
Naylor, who runs a Heating/AC company and a small home remodeling firm, said that a cashier recognized his name off his card as he was checking out at Tractor Supply. Several people overheard her, he said, and a few came up to shake his hand.
Cummins, who has some professional experience with social media in her day job as a marketer, said that on several occasions, at church or at her son’s school, a stranger has recognized her from Facebook. One person even took a selfie to document it.
“It cracks me up. People will say, ‘Oh, you look so familiar.’ I mention my boys, and they say, ‘No, no.’ Then I mention the Facebook group, and they say, ‘That’s it!”