Can our Facebook addiction help us save missing kids?

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Sometime soon your Facebook habit could lead you to help reunite a missing child with their family. Or that’s the idea, anyways. NPR reported this week that Facebook will begin working with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to release Amber Alerts to people’s newsfeeds.

The idea was set in motion when Emily Vacher, Facebook’s trust and safety manager, noticed that in the past couple of years people have taken to social media to ask for help and share information when someone goes missing.

“Kids have actually been brought home because of the information people shared on Facebook.”

Amber Alerts appear on highway billboards, TV, radio, and some cell phone alerts, but Facebook is the first social media site to work with NCMEC. Proponents of the program believe that Facebook could be a game changer for the success of Amber Alerts because of the quick and easy ability to share the post with others on the site.

Facebook has actually been involved with Amber Alerts since 2011, when 53 pages (one for each of the 50 states, plus DC, the US Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico) were created to provide users with information on missing children. However, Facebook users had to go to their location-specific page and sign up to receive the updates.

The new program, which went into effect on January 13, automatically applies to users and will put alerts on directly onto their newsfeeds. There were some concerns that Facebook users would see these posts as spam, since they will appear in newsfeeds without being requested and there will not be a way to opt out of the program. However, Vacher says because the system is location targeted, most people will only ever see one or two alerts a year.

“If you see an Amber Alert delivered, it means you are actually in a position to be able to help.”

I am very excited for this new feature. In fact, I’d say this is the first time in a while I’ve thought, ‘Wow. Good job, Facebook!’ and not meant it sarcastically. This is one of those ideas where I wonder how no one had come up with it before. And the best part of all this is I have hope that Facebook posts about missing kids could really help bring them home because it has actually happened before.

Obviously I don’t expect miracles. Facebook isn’t about to solve the problem of missing children singlehandedly. I’m sure plenty of users will skim over the alert without much thought, or even ignore it completely.  This is still social media, after all. Mindless scrolling is a part of the culture. But the way I see it, the more people who know a child is missing, the more eyes there are that could be watching out for him or her, and the more likely the child is to be found.

So if an Amber Alert graces your newsfeed, I recommend you take a second to share it. Who knows? You could help save a life.

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