Social Media And The Big-Bellied RapistSeptember 3, 2009 - Author: newscoma - Comments are closed
In 1992, I met a sports stringer named Bruce Tuck. He was working for the local paper covering games while I was the news director at the radio station. I didn’t think much about him other than he was socially awkward. Seriously, it would be fair to say I really didn’t think about him at all other than when he was around.
Many things happened yesterday. Some of them infuriating because the community had no information all day from people in positions of authority. The stream of communication on social media networks exploded when local law enforcement agencies said nothing and remember, scanners are funky things. It was just moments after they initially picked him up that we knew his name. When Bruce Tuck’s name started being tossed around, Facebook exploded with men and women trying to figure out what was going on. My cell phone had countless messages with Tuck’s picture sent asking if this was the man who was the Big-Bellied Rapist. Because of the fierce need for answers, local media (myself included although I’m not longer a paid journalist in the area but was asked to help out) tried to bring down some of the, lack of a better term, fever-pitched tension because at that point, we didn’t know what was going on and we’d all been trained for years that the best thing to always do in this situation is not throw gasoline on a fire. The text messages continued, and at that point I realized that this community was trying to, as I called it yesterday, figure out the mystery in good old-fashioned Gus Grissom style because they were afraid and no one was talking.
People needed, craved some sort of answer.
When official word didn’t come down, they created the conversation themselves. The community controlled the story because no one in an official capacity would. (In a side note, I saw Tuck update his Facebook citing he was innocent and the DNA would prove it. Seconds later, his account, which I was listed on as well, disappeared. Of course I went to his Facebook when his name was released. He joined July 16th of this year and had 693 friends which I found to be somewhat odd and suspicious. This was how everyone had his picture, as do I. I was looking at his account when he dumped everyone and all of his posts disappeared. I’ve never seen that happen before but I did see it yesterday.)
I admit, in the beginning, I felt horrible for Tuck because no one knew what was going on and his picture was on many emails in the county. I don’t feel so bad about it now, mind you, but during those few hours there had been no arrest.
I was asked by the news editor of the local paper as she was swamped if I wouldn’t mind going out to his house. When I got there, not much was going on, quite frankly. I talked to one of the police, saw his parents looking tired and distraught in the front yard. At that point, Tuck wasn’t there. One of the officers on the scene said no arrests were made. Fair enough.
Digital conversation, fueled by some facts that we found out later and many rumors, escalated. Topix, which is the bane of all websites if you ask me, filled with comments. Facebook conversations became more frequent. Some people said he had been arrested, other folks were saying he had been released. In reality, not a one of us knew what was real and what wasn’t.
My Blackberry box filled up. Still no word. The S.T.O.P. organization implored people not to throw his name around or distribute his photo in case he was innocent. Many of us asked the same thing, but I return to that the social media conversation continued.
Finally, we received word he was “no longer a person of interest” and that was that from an official source given to local media.
An hour later, Tuck was arrested in dramatic fashion, crying into a red towel and then loaded into an ambulance.
This is Hoots guys, everyone in the video is someone we all know arresting a man that we also know. The accused, who if convicted, was a monster in our midst that we all knew. He had asked Squirrel Queen and I both for a job recently. When local reporters used to meet for lunch ever Thursday back in the early 90s, he was always there. We’d lost sight of him for about 15 years, so I was somewhat surprised to see that he was a former Shelby County Sheriff’s volunteer and that he had even run for a constable position in the past.
I spoke to some of the usual crowd, this time men I know with daughters roughly the age of the victims, and they were furious. The entire community, men and women, needed answers. When they didn’t get them, they began communicating through social media means.
This is an important lesson, I would think. The community decided to communicate themselves. If Tuck had not been arrested for the crime, his picture from his Facebook account would have still been sent to hundreds, if not thousands, of cell phones across the area.
He was arrested though.
This story took a life of it’s own on. Rumor fueled with facts was what we had for hours.
Ironically, Vibinc used to know this guy as well at a place he used to work. This world is smaller than it ever was.
I’m not here today to condemn an accused man. I will let a judge and a jury of his peers figure it all out. I respect that.
But I’m also glad that many of the women and men I saw last night relieved who are exhausted from this. I’m just glad they caught him, but there is a unique dynamic here that is important to remember.
When nothing came from authorities, the community took the avenue of communicating for themselves. Nor do I blame them. I do see a learning curve here however. Maybe I’m the only one but I think this is important for future investigations.
However, that is said and done. More will be revealed today at a press conference and Shelby County Sheriff Mark Lutrell did fill in some of the details last night.