Facebook brings Amber Alerts to your news feed

Facebook announced it will be partnering with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) to help make Amber Alerts more targeted and effective.

Paul Sakuma/AP/File
Facebook users in the US will soon receive Amber Alerts to help find missing children who may be located near them, the company announced Tuesday.

On Tuesday, Facebook announced a partnership with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) to bring Amber Alerts to social media news feeds.

The new program was designed to help optimize search efforts and will work by geographically pinpointing which of Facebook’s 185 million US users are in the corresponding search area.

Depending on the needs of law enforcement, Facebook plans to target people in specific cites and neighborhoods. The selected users will receive two alerts in their feeds that will encourage them to spread the word.

Many questioned the effectiveness of the alert system and technology after New Yorkers were awakened in 2013 at 4 a.m. to an Amber Alert about a 7-month-old boy who had been abducted from foster care by his mother. People took to social media to vent their frustrations with the system and, as one man suggested to the New York Times, that the annoyance may encourage people to turn off the alerts all together.

As the Monitor's Lisa Suhay reported today, Amber Alerts on Facebook have already made a difference. Carol Gause of Florence, S.C., "saved a little girl last March as the result of checking her Facebook news feed on her iPad while at work."

With this system, as Emily Vacher, trust and safety manager for Facebook security, points out, Amber Alerts will be much more effective. American users will automatically be signed up for the notifications and will receive all the information in one place, instead of having to write down the information from a billboard or electric highway signs.

"If you see an Amber Alert delivered, it means you are actually in a position to be able to help," Ms. Vacher said in an interview with USA Today. "The best chance of finding a child comes when the right information gets to the people at the right time."

Vacher went on to say that those who are interested in assisting police efforts will have the option to click a “Learn More” button. It will provide a link to the NCMEC missing child poster and updated information on search efforts.

"It's people in the community who see things and share things," Vacher said. "I like to think about this as the world's largest community watch. It's giving the people in the community the tools they need to find a missing child."

The Amber Alert system has been credited with helping recover 728 children since the program began in 1996. The alert was named in honor of Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old Texas girl who was kidnapped and murdered, and is also an acronym for the official name, America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response. American law enforcement issues about 200 alerts a year, but with this new system in place, the alerts will be more targeted and Facebook users should only expect an average of two alerts a year.

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