It’s by far the most popular social media site, and now Facebook is doing its part to help abducted children return home safely.
Through a new partnership with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Facebook has begun sending AMBER Alerts to its users in targeted areas where a child has been reported abducted. The alerts appear in users’ News Feeds via desktop computer or mobile device.
Facebook users can share the alerts, which may include photographs and details about the missing child and the suspected abductor, as well as a description of any vehicle involved.
The new partnership is “a game changer,” John Walsh, co-founder of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, told USA Today in January 2015.
Among American adults who use the Internet, 71% spend time on Facebook, according to a January report by the Pew Research Center. By comparison, 28% of online adults use LinkedIn and Pinterest, 26% use Instagram and 23% use Twitter.
The Pew report also found that Facebook users are “very active,” with 70% engaging with the network each day.
“Facebook is the 700-pound gorilla,” said Walsh, whose 6-year-old son, Adam, was abducted and killed in 1981.
Since they were launched in 1996, AMBER Alerts have been credited with helping investigators recover more than 730 children, according to the program’s website. AMBER is an acronym for America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response; it was chosen to honor Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old girl who was abducted and murdered in Arlington, Texas.
An estimated 200 alerts are issued each year by law enforcement agencies. The U.S. Department of Justice recommends several criteria for issuing alerts, including: that the child be no older than 17; that the youngster faces risk of serious injury or death; and that sufficient descriptive information regarding the child and suspect is available.
In 2003, the U.S. Congress passed the Protect Act, which helped create a national alert system. The alerts are displayed over major highways in metropolitan cities, on television and, more recently, as text messages on mobile phones.
In announcing the partnership, Facebook noted that its users have long shared AMBER Alerts, including cases where children were returned safely after the social network’s users called authorities.
“We know the chances of finding a missing child increase when more people are on the lookout, especially in the critical first hours,” Emily Vacher, a trust and safety manager with Facebook, wrote in a January article on the company’s website. “Our goal is to help get these alerts out quickly to the people who are in the best position to help.”