Today, the mega social media website, Facebook, introduced targeted Amber alerts that will be received via the site’s News Feed. Since being introduced in 1996, Amber alerts have resulted in more than 700 children being recovered successfully. This child abduction emergency code is named after Amber Hagerman, who in 1996 was abducted and murdered in Texas at just nine years of age.
The program, which involves voluntary work from law enforcement agencies, transportation agencies, broadcasters, and those within the wireless industry, is active in all 50 states, as well as Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, and the District of Columbia. With advanced technology specific to communications, computers, and social media, the way in which Amber Alerts are disseminated has dramatically evolved.
Last year, Amber alerts were added to the Wireless Emergency Alert program, which is nationwide. Because these alerts will now be disseminated through Facebook’s News Feed, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children anticipates the number of successful recoveries to increase. The primary reason this new method of getting alerts out is so great is that targets are both current and geographical.
Although Amber alerts were broadcast on Facebook prior, actually finding a child was more hit-and-miss scenario. The earlier system required someone on Facebook to see an alert, followed by posting or sharing it with “friends”. However, Amber alerts will now be delivered to people’s News Feeds for very specific search areas once a child has been abducted and an official alert issued.
The targeted area for the Facebook Amber alert will be determined by a law enforcement agency and alerts are disseminated only through the News Feed opposed to triggering a cell phone notification. Regarding the actual number of alerts that an individual will see depends on how many alerts are issued in their area. Because of this, some people may see just one or two a year whereas others might never get an Amber alert.
As part of the promotion for Facebook’s involvement with Amber alerts, the story of Caitlyn Virts is shared. This story unfolded in March 2013 whereby Timothy Virts murdered Caitlyn’s mother and then abducted her. A woman who seldom looked at Facebook information received a shared post from a friend about the story. As a desk clerk for a hotel, the woman immediately recognized that Timothy along with his daughter Caitlyn had checked in the previous evening.
The woman had the opportunity to contact local law enforcement, who showed up to arrest Timothy and rescue Caitlyn. Obviously, this is great news but unfortunately, it is a prime example of how Amber alerts were “hit and miss”.
The partnership created between Facebook and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children will make it easier for Amber alerts to be seen and by more people. As a result, a greater number of kidnapped children will be returned home safely.