Facebook launched a new program on Tuesday, Jan. 13, that allows its users the ability to help find and returning missing children.
The social media giant has partnered with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) to provide AMBER Alerts to specific users who are within the geographical vicinity of any ongoing search.
“The chances of finding a missing child increase when more people are on the lookout,” Emily Vacher, trust and safety manager at Facebook, said in a statement. “Our goal is to help get these alerts out quickly to the people who are in the best position to help.”
Immediately upon law enforcement issuance of an AMBER Alert and once the NCMEC releases it, Facebook sends a targeted alert to users’ news feed, computer or phone. Alerts will be accompanied by details from law enforcement, including a photo of the child, vehicle description and any other information that would help the public in finding the child, Vacher said, according to ABC News.
John Walsh, co-founder of the NCMEC, said this partnership holds much promise, ABC News reported.
“Most children that are going to be murdered by a perpetrator, it’s done immediately, within the first four hours,” he told the news agency. “This gives hope to the loved ones and parents of missing children.”
In 1981, Walsh’s 6-year-old son, Adam, was abducted and found dead.
“When people receive these alerts on their phones, we want them to know that this is very rare and they’re in a position to be able to help,” Vacher said. “We want them to look around and see what they can do to contribute to bringing a child home.”
The AMBER Alert system began in 1996 following the kidnapping of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman while she rode her bicycle in Arlington, Texas, and was subsequently murdered. Broadcasters then teamed up with local police to solicit public assistance in searching for missing or abducted children.
US Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday said sending alerts via Facebook would increase the chance of recovering missing children, who can face deeper danger the longer they are gone.
“The more vigilant the citizens we have on the lookout, the better our chances of a quick recovery,” Holder said in a video statement.
The system is a voluntary program managed by the US Department of Justice.
More than 700 children have been saved as a result of the program, according to the AMBER Alert website.
(With reports from ABC News, Reuters and USA Today)