Facebook launches Amber Alerts to help find missing children
Posted January 13, 2015
NEW YORK — 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.