BIG LAKE, Minn. — Online and on social media, it’s difficult to remember that what you see is not necessarily what you get.
A post went around several Big Lake community Facebook groups featuring a white pickup truck with the text “This creeper man was taking pics of houses on Fair Meadows Drive. But what irritated me is when he rolled down the window to clearly take a pic of my son & neighbor boy at their bus stop. I’m not OK with that! Be on the look out!”
Vigilance is one of the pillars of neighborhood living. However, when fear becomes pervasive on online neighborhood watch forums, it can get nasty.
Roger unfortunately knows this first hand. He said he doesn’t want to reveal his full name but he said he’s been living in Big Lake since 1970. This incident went down earlier this week.
“My boy’s truck broke down and he needed a truck to drive a couple of days,” he explained. “I was on my way to pick him up. I turned one block too soon and went down the street. I turned around in a driveway and I started going the other way and I stopped and I called him.”
Roger said his son’s house was new so he needed directions. He said he didn’t want to call while behind the wheel so he stopped on the road. He explained it was a brief moment on the wrong road in his white pick up and that he did not know his truck was photographed.
What he also didn’t know was that whoever took the picture felt threatened and posted it on Facebook, with the “creeper” warning.
“She called me a creeper and she lied to me,” he said with tears in his eyes. “she said I took pictures and I didn’t take any pictures. I told the [police] chief–here’s my phone, you can look at it.”
Big Lake Police Chief Joel Scharf said he was clued into this last minute by not the original poster on Facebook, but by someone else who had seen the post go viral.
“I was upset that the person that had posted it said they reported it and it hadn’t been reported,” Scharf said. “Number two, you’re making serious allegations that are going out to thousands of people with photos. Accusations that are baseless until you’ve actually spoken to the person on what took place.”
He said once he found out about the post, his officers looked into it. They went over to Roger’s place and cleared it up in five minutes. It was all just a misunderstanding.
Scharf said he’s a big fan of what social media can do for community policing. However, he said this kind of social media use is not helpful at all.
“Majority of things we solve come through citizen reports,” Scharf said. “They know when something’s not right in their neighborhood. But they’re partnering with law enforcement, not with the local gossip network to accomplish that.”
Roger said he has been shaken up since the incident. He said even his other son who lives in California saw the post on Facebook and was alarmed.
“Casey’s General Store, I stopped there in the morning and somebody called me a pervert,” he said, again with tears in his eyes.
Because of the post, because of how his truck was exposed, Roger said he’s been hurt. He said he doesn’t even have Facebook– just his wife does– but he said he wants to warn others to not take the platform at its face value.
“A lot of the stuff you see on that isn’t true and to understand that people’s lives matter,” he said. “It hurts them. I don’t care how much it hurts them, it hurts them. Maybe other people don’t think that way but I do because I was a victim here. This should have never happened.”
Both Chief Scharf and Roger said they wanted people to turn to law enforcement if they feel unsafe in their neighborhoods. Chief Scharf also posted on the Big Lake Police Department’s Facebook page clarifying the situation. You can read that post here.