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Facebook to issue AMBER Alerts to help find missing kids

14 Jan 15

Facebook has today announced they will be sending AMBER Alerts to the Facebook community to help finding missing children, in a partnership with the United States National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

The new initiative will deliver AMBER Alerts to people’s News Feeds in targeted search areas after a child has been abducted and the National Center has issued an alert.

These alerts, which include photographs and other details about the missing child, are shown on mobile and desktop. “People can share the alert with friends and link directly to the National Center’s missing child poster, which always has the most up-to-date information about the case,” says Emiliy Vacher, Facebook’s trust and safety manager.

“For years, people have used Facebook to post news articles about missing children and AMBER Alerts. In several cases, someone saw a post or photo in their News Feed, took action, and a child was safely returned,” she says.

In 2014, an 11-year-old girl was safely recovered after a motel owner recognised her from an AMBER Alert that a friend had shared on Facebook. The woman called the police, and the child was found unharmed. “It’s amazing word-of-mouth efforts like this that inspired us to develop a more systematic way to help find missing children on Facebook,” says Vacher.

The chances of finding a missing child increase when more people are on the lookout, especially in the critical first hours. “Our goal is to help get these alerts out quickly to the people who are in the best position to help,” she adds.

When local or state police determine that a case qualifies for an AMBER Alert, the alert is issued by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and distributed through the Facebook system with any available information, including a photograph of the missing child, a license plate number, the name and description of the child and suspected abductor.

Law enforcement determines the range of the target area for each alert. The number of alerts people will see depends on how many alerts are issued in their area. Some people may see a few each year and many people will likely get no alerts at all. The alerts will appear in News Feed, but will not trigger any notifications to a person’s phone.

“With more than 725 children recovered as a direct result of AMBER Alerts since the programme launched in 1996, we know the system works,” says Vacher. “We hope our new delivery mechanism will help increase that number and reunite even more families.”

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