How can a community help find a missing child?
In an exciting new local development, the answer might now be; with Facebook. Find out how…
20,000 children under the age of 18 are reported missing each year. As a community, we often feel hopeless when reading about or discussing child abductions and disappearances. We want to be involved in helping to find a resolution. This is especially true when you consider that the first 24 hours after a child goes missing are the most critical in achieving a positive outcome.
It’s one of the reasons why Facebook, in conjunction with the Australian Federal Police and State Police, introduced the AMBER alert to Australia this week. The system, which has been active in the USA since 2015, directly distributes information about a missing child to the public via the Facebook app. This means that anyone with access to their device and who are in the designated alert zone will receive information that a child is missing.
How does an AMBER alert work?
The AMBER alert system takes the message; ‘If you see something, say something,’ and turns it into something tangible and shareable. Using highly specific parameters, an alert will be issued, via the Facebook app, that a child is missing. For an AMBER alert to be issued, the following criteria needs to be met:
- Child needs to be 17 years or younger
- Police/family believe that the child has been abducted and is in immediate and life threatening danger
- Information is already available to help both police and the community locate the child. This may be a photo of the child, the number plate of a vehicle or even a photo of the suspect
The alert is only issued to those within a 160km radius of where the event occurred. This is a very specific strategy used to avoid ‘AMBER alert fatigue’ where too many alerts are issued. “One of the biggest things you can do to harm the AMBER Alert system is to send too many,” Emily Vacher, Director of Trust and Safety at Facebook, told the Huffington Post Australia. “The AMBER Alert system is really for a small percentage of the most high risk cases with the best chance of it [the case] being solved quickly.”
How will an alert appear?
Due to their rarity, when an AMBER alert appears, you won’t be able to miss it. If you’re using a smartphone, the alert will appear in the middle of the screen. For a tablet or laptop, it’ll be the second position on your Facebook feed. The very fact that you’re receiving the alert means that you’re within the specified 160km radius. You’ll be able to see as much information as is available to the public along with important contact numbers.
What should you do if you see an AMBER alert?
Click on it! While the incident may have occurred many kilometres away from you, it could just as easily have been in your own community. “When a child goes missing, it is somebody in their community that has seen something,” says Vacher. “If that’s a car, a person, that child. These [alerts] are more about bringing the community together, sharing the information at the appropriate time.” An alert will not be issued unless the situation is dire and any information could end up making a difference. There are already reports of the alert directly helping to save a missing children in both the U.S. and Malaysia. Evidence that it can and does work when used correctly.