Facebook's New AMBER Alerts May Save Kids' Lives

Facebook AMBER alerts

Setting aside its ability to keep you distracted when you’re sitting in a doctor’s waiting room with nothing but tattered issues of Golf Digest to read, do you think Facebook is honestly useful? I’d argue that it really does have the capability to help us connect with one another, particularly for friends and family who don’t get a chance to meet up in person very often. The potential has always been there for the world’s biggest social media network to do more, though, and today Facebook is offering a brand new service that may help speed the process of reuniting children with their parents. As of now, news feeds will include AMBER alerts.

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Facebook has announced an official partnership with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and as part of this initiative, AMBER alerts will be delivered to people’s news feeds in targeted search areas.

After a child has been abducted and the National Center has issued an alert, the AMBER system distributes messages via commercial radio stations, Internet radio, satellite radio, television stations, and cable TV by the Emergency Alert System and NOAA Weather Radio. You’ve likely seen them on billboards, or popping up as a text message on your phone (with a rather startling accompanying alarm tone). Public information in an AMBER alert usually includes the name and description of the abductee, a description of the suspected abductor, and a description and license plate number of the abductor's vehicle if available.

Today, Facebook will begin broadcasting these alerts, including photographs of the child as well as the location where the possible abduction took place. They’ll be shown on mobile and desktop, and people will be able to share the alert with their friends and link to the National Center’s missing child poster.

Law enforcement determines the range of the target area for each alert, so some people may see a few each year and many people will get no alerts at all. Still, the fact that Facebook has 185 million users in the U.S. makes this an obvious collaboration. Facebook's trust and safety manager, Emily Vacher, says the company was motivated by the choices its users were already making:

We were actually really inspired by people who already use Facebook for this purpose. We've noticed over the last couple of years that when kids go missing, people started posting about this on their Facebook pages to share information within their own communities. And we saw a lot of successes out of this. Kids have actually been brought home because of the information people shared on Facebook.

She reminds everyone that the alerts will be infrequent, but critical:

Amber Alerts are very rare occurrences. So when you see one of these on Facebook, take a couple of minutes to read the alert, to share the information with your friends and family, and just pay attention to your surroundings, because a tip that you may find may actually result in reuniting a child with their family.

I think this is awesome. I know there’s always someone who complains that the text alerts are intrusive, but can you imagine if it was your own child who was missing? I’m pretty sure every parent would be willing to briefly intrude on someone’s social media surfing long enough to share some vital information that might result in a child being returned unharmed, and hopefully the Facebook community will embrace this new feature. It should be really interesting to see if it generates some positive results.

What do you think about Facebook’s new AMBER alert feature?

Via Facebook

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