Tacoma Rocks just wanted to spread joy but got some controversy. So there has been a change

A hobby that spreads smiles one rock at a time

Rock-painting has generated controversy for the “Tacoma Rocks!” Facebook group, which has more than 23,000 members and has faced infighting and allegations of censorship. Learn more about the activity in this file video.
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Rock-painting has generated controversy for the “Tacoma Rocks!” Facebook group, which has more than 23,000 members and has faced infighting and allegations of censorship. Learn more about the activity in this file video.

A Tacoma Facebook page dedicated to “spreading smiles” has added a few frowns as well as it experienced a phenomenal growth of members.

Now, it’s been sold — sort of.

Brooke Baker created the group “Tacoma Rocks!” in 2016 and devoted it to creating art on rocks and hiding them around Tacoma.

In November, it had 2,300 members. On Wednesday, it had 23,000.

Along the way, Baker banned people from the group.

“The drama was deep with this group,” a member posted Wednesday.

Some members say “political rocks” got them banned from the group — rocks that referenced President Donald Trump, drugs and the liquefied natural gas plant under construction at the Port of Tacoma.

Baker was paid $1,000 from Tacoma social media manager Jonah Sanford to make him the sole administrator.

“That group constitutes about 12 percent of Tacoma,” Sanford said Wednesday evening. “At this point, it’s become part of the fabric of the city. It would be a huge disservice to the community to see it go. So it was worth the $1,000 to keep it going.”

The page showed that it had been archived on Monday, closing it to new members.

Sanford made the announcement on Wednesday. New members are now being added again.

“Hey guys I have purchased the Tacoma Rocks group in order to keep the fun going,” Sanford wrote. “We are in the process of clearing the ban list for a fresh start but it’s a long one so give us 24hrs. Happy rocking!”

Facebook calls it a secret group, meaning only members can see it.

But, it’s easy for a member to add another.

“I made a cash offer to become the sole admin,” Sanford wrote. “I love what we have here and I hated seeing the way things were going so this felt like the right move.”

He received much praise for the action.

“He bought the page because it was probably the only way to get the original admin to release control over it,” one poster wrote. “He did a community service for us.”

A few questioned his intentions.

“I think people worry that someone will be using this page for profit, now that money has been involved,” another poster wrote.

Sanford told The News Tribune that because the group is secret it doesn’t lend itself to make money.

“We’ll just continue to try and propagate it in the spirit it was intended,” he said.

Sanford estimated that more than 200 people had been banned from the group.

“I’m still working my way through it,” he said. “I’m in the S’s now.”

He elaborated on what got people banned.

“They were banning for anything,” he said. “A slight reference to something you wanted to sell … anything that might be politically insensitive.”

In response to “Tacoma Rocks!” at least 10 other similarly themed groups have sprung up in the past year ranging from “Tacoma Rocks” with 3,017 members to “Tacoma Rocks!!! 2” (“A place to post your creations WITHOUT negativity or comment police,” it states.) It has 12 members.

Another group was created Tuesday. It’s called “Tacoma Rocks — Uncensored.”

“It’s a burgeoning group made yesterday,” the creator wrote on Wednesday. “I was frustrated with the hyper-policing on (Tacoma Rocks!) and the group being archived.”

The goal of the original group Baker created was innocent enough: Place meticulously decorated rocks around Tacoma — in nooks of trees, on benches in city parks, tucked along the shore of the Ruston waterfront.

Flip them over and you’ll find a clue about their origins.

Many include instructions to search Facebook for “Tacoma Rocks!” and post a photo of their find.

On Wednesday, a woman from Florida found one.

“Thought you’d like to know it’s traveling to the east coast and. Thank you,” she posted on the “Friends of Tacoma Rocks!” page. That page was created by Sanford.

Instagram has 3,884 posts with the #tacomarocks hashtag.

Baker started the “Tacoma Rocks!” group after coming across a similar group in Port Angeles.

“I am totally about spreading smiles and joy, and I just thought this would be a good way to carry that on,” Baker told The News Tribune in November.

Baker did not immediately return a request for an interview Wednesday evening.

Meanwhile, the original intent of the group was running strong Wednesday evening with postings coming in every few minutes.

“Thank you artists,” a man just returned from Titlow Beach with his three kids posted. “You brought a huge smile to their faces.”

Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541, @crsailor