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Facebook launches Amber Alerts to help find missing children

Posted January 13, 2015

— Facebook users in the U.S. will soon receive Amber Alerts to help find missing children who may be located near them.

Facebook Inc. is working with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to send the alerts to users' mobile phones if they are in a search area where a child has been abducted. Facebook says people are already using its site to encourage their friends and family to help find missing children, and that several children have been reunited with their families as a result of information shared on the site.

Last March, a missing 11-year-old girl was found in a South Carolina motel room when a motel clerk called police after seeing an Amber Alert on Facebook, according to the company and reports at the time.

“Getting detailed information to the public quickly improves dramatically the ability to find an abducted child,” said North Carolina State Highway Patrol Lt. Jeff Gordon, who also is director of the North Carolina Center for Missing Persons. “When the community is able to report sightings of the child, the suspect or the vehicle, especially in the first few hours, law enforcement are better able to find and recover the child safely."

The Amber Alert warning system was started after the 1996 kidnapping and murder of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman in Arlington, Texas. Since then, more than 700 children have been found as a direct result of the alerts. The alerts are issued over TV and radio, on highway signs, as text messages and over the Internet.

On Facebook, the alerts will include the missing child's photo and any other information that could be relevant, said Emily Vacher, trust and safety manager at Facebook and former FBI agent. She said Facebook's Amber Alert distribution tool is "very comprehensive" and complements other systems that are out there now. Text alerts and highway signs, for example, don't include photos, and the text alerts are limited to some 90 characters.

Vacher said the alerts will only go to people who may be in a position to help find the missing child. If a Facebook user does get an alert, it means there is an active search for an abducted child going on in that area.

"When people see this on Facebook we want them to know that this is a very rare occurrence," she said.

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  • babylaceycarpenter Jan 13, 2015

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    Why? 90% of all cell phones have texting. Just because 10% don't, is no reason to shun this idea. You are simply too close minded.

  • pirategal Jan 13, 2015

    These Amber Alerts should go on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and any other social media there is out there. Having it sent via a text would be good if people have the capability and an automated phone call would work too as long as there was a way to opt out of these type calls if needed. I also think that the Amber Alert system should be activated 12-18 hours when a child is reported missing; not the full 24 hours.

  • Betty Lanier Jan 13, 2015
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    Bad idea. Not everyone gets a tsxt msg plan on their phone and not everyone wants these txt..

    These texts can come thru now on many of the newer smartphones, but we have the option to disable them.

  • babylaceycarpenter Jan 13, 2015

    A good idea in general, but not everyone is on facebook. Example....Me. I do have a better idea though. Send a text to every working cell phone in NC, or whatever state the amber alert is needed in. Individuals would not need to register to get this, but rather are already signed up simply by having the phone.