ALEXANDRIA, VA—Millions of Facebook users can now receive AMBER Alert notifications through their personal profiles thanks to the social network’s new collaboration with the Department of Justice and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
Facebook launched 53 new AMBER Alert Pages Tuesday, each one representing a different state or region in the United States. “Residents who ‘like’ their state’s AMBER Alert Facebook Page will automatically receive notifications in their News Feed, or communication stream, when an AMBER Alert is activated for a child in that state,” said Chris Sonderby, lead security and investigation counsel for Facebook. “They in turn can share that information with other friends, which immediately spreads the word that a child needs our help, especially in those crucial first hours after an abduction.”
“Once you opt in, it allows you to spread [the feature] to all your network of friends and that’s an incredibly powerful mechanism to share this information,” said Sonderby.
The Amber Alert system is a voluntary network of law enforcement agencies and broadcasters that issues urgent bulletins in the most serious cases of child kidnapping. It is named after Amber Hagerman, a nine-year-old Arlington, Texas girl who was abducted and killed in 1996. Thursday marks the 15th anniversary of her abduction.
Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children said, “the goal is to focus on the most serious cases where the child’s at greatest risk and where there is key descriptive information to provide to the public.”
Law enforcement officials said Facebook’s wider each will help authorities spread information quickly.
“I can only imagine how this new venture with Facebook will work to law enforcement’s advantage in finding missing children even faster,” said Colonel Steven Flaherty, superintendent of Virginia State Police, “because every second counts in these incidents.”
Facebook’s AMBER Alert bulletins will only go to those who opt in.
“We get the best bang for our buck if we get people who are interested in getting this information. We’re very guarded in what we put out in the AMBER Alert system, I think we have to be kind of guarded in this to a degree as well,” said Flaherty. “If it becomes just another advertisement I’m not sure it would have the same impact.”
Facebook will promote the Amber Alert pages with 50 million ads throughout the site.
“I encourage everyone here today, and all those who are watching or listening, to go to Facebook and ‘Like’ their state AMBER Alert Page for themselves,” said Sonderby. “It’s a small step that could make a big difference in the life of a child.”