Facebook announced this week that it has officially joined a partnership with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children that will allow the social media giant to post instant Amber Alerts in the Facebook feeds of its 185 million users in the United States.
The alerts will include a photograph of the missing child and the location where the child was last seen, along with information tailored to each Facebook user's location. Users will receive Amber Alert posts when a possible abduction has occurred in their area.
"Over the past few years, we've seen people using Facebook on their own to help find kids who have been abducted," Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg recently posted on his Facebook page. "This inspired a team of us here to build a better tool so you can use Facebook to help reunite families."
Emily Vacher, Facebook's trust and safety manager, recently told NPR that "[k]ids have actually been brought home because of the information people shared on Facebook." Vacher spent more than a decade working as an FBI agent specializing in child abduction and exploitation cases before working for Facebook. She emphasized the importance of getting people information quickly when a child goes missing. "If you see an Amber Alert delivered, it means you are actually in a position to be able to help," Vacher said. "The best chance of finding a child comes when the right information gets to the people at the right time."
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Amber Alerts have helped to save 728 children since they first came into use in 1996 following the abduction of Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old from Texas, who was abducted in broad daylight and murdered. That little girl is the namesake of the alerts and Amber is an acronym that stands for America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response.
In many areas, Amber Alerts are already broadcast via emergency text messages on cellphones and highway road signs. But what makes this Facebook partnership unique is that users will not only be able to see the photo of the missing child, they will also be able to share the information instantly with other Facebook users in their area and beyond.
In an ideal world, Facebook will never have to utilize this new Amber Alert feature. But in the unfortunate event that it is needed, Facebook is hoping that this new partnership will create "the world's largest neighborhood watch program." And if it helps to reunite even one child with his family, it will be well with the effort.