Strengthening its position as a public utility, Facebook will now “broadcast” AMBER Alerts to help find missing children. In partnership with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Facebook plans to insert the Alerts directly into users’ desktop and mobile News Feeds in targeted search areas.
For Facebook, it is merely formalizing a practice that has become common among users in crisis.
“For years, people have used Facebook to post news articles about missing children and AMBER Alerts,” Emily Vacher, Trust and Safety Manager at Facebook, explains in a new blog post.
Facebook has documented several cases of children being returned home after their photos were distributed on its network. “In several cases, someone saw a post or photo in their News Feed, took action, and a child was safely returned,” according to Vacher.
Now, when local or state police determine that a case qualifies for an AMBER Alert, the alert will be issued by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and distributed throughout the Facebook system with any available information. That will include a photograph of the missing child, a license plate number, the name and description of the child and suspected abductor.
Law enforcement will determine the range of the target area for each alert, according to Vacher. The number of alerts people see will depend on how many alerts are issued in their area, she said.
This is not Facebook’s first bid to position itself as a critical public information and communication resource.
Late last year, the social giant rolled out Safety Check — a service for people to let loved ones know they are safe during major disaster. Facebook engineers were inspired to develop the service following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.