This past Wednesday marked the 15th anniversary of the abduction and murder of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, the namesake of the AMBER Alert. To mark the occasion, Facebook announced that it was launching 53 separate Amber Alert pages -- one for every state, plus DC, the U.S. Virgin Island, and Puerto Rico -- so that Facebook users could sign up to have local Amber Alerts show up in their news feeds, automatically.
As of this writing, around 28,000 people have already "liked" the main Amber Alert page on Facebook, and from there users can visit their local page and "like" it to receive local alerts.
I tend to think this is a good and logical idea, if not a terribly earth-shattering one. Plenty of folks are Facebook junkies, and the more eyeballs on Amber Alerts, the better. I, personally, don't spend all that much time on Facebook, and to be honest I don't spend all that much time out of the house, either, so I don't know how useful I could be when it comes to a missing child in my area, but that's just me. Having this service available to those who'd like to opt in makes sense to me.
Of course, I then wonder things like... state lines. (No one ever accused me of just taking a good thing at face value.) Am I good citizen of the planet if I join the Georgia Amber Alert page, or should I join the Florida, South Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee pages, too? Does any of it matter, given how infrequently I tend to check Facebook?
MSNBC's Helen A.S. Popkin tells the story of a Roanoke girl returned to safety in part because her story was posted on Facebook:
"With a click of that button went images of Brittany Smith and Jeff Easley and a descriptor of that vehicle" to 24,000 Virginia State Police Facebook fans, Col. Flaherty said in a press conference Wednesday, announcing Facebook’s new AMBER Alert program. The page gained 200 more fans by the end of the day, "and they too were able to share the story with their friends and fans."
The link spread across the country on Facebook, and as often happens with links on the social network, the local story made national news. Five days later, on the other side of the country, a woman spotted the missing pair outside a store in San Francisco. Recognizing them from TV, she notified the authorities, which led to Easley’s arrest and Brittany’s safe return to her father in Virginia.
Strollerderby's Danielle Sullivan notes that while participation is still voluntary, it has the potential to reach millions:
Previously, Amber alerts have mainly been announced via radio, television, and on electronic roadway signs, but there have been some small attempts at utilizing social networking systems in the past. While Twitter and MySpace did have some initial success with Amber alerts, Facebook has the potential to reach millions of users. The only catch is that users must sign up. There will be no mandatory outreach; it’s purely optional.
Theresa Walsh Giarrusso, writer of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Momania blog, takes some heat from her commenters for the following:
I just explored the link, and it seems like all you have to do is click on the link above and hit “Like” and I think then you will get updates on missing kids. (My only worry is: Is this going to depress me. You guys know I don’t like thinking about hurt children. But it’s an important thing to do!)
While I feel sort of bad for Giarrusso for the flogging she's subjected to for saying that, I think she brings up an important point. How many people are really going to sign up for these alerts? How big of a difference will it make when it comes to finding missing children? I'm not sure there's any reliable way to track it, so it may be a moot question. On the other hand, it's certainly easy enough to set up and opt to use, if you're so inclined, and more information is always a good thing, right?
Will you sign up for Facebook AMBER alerts?
BlogHer Contributing Editor Mir Kamin has forbidden her children to be kidnapped, and so far it's worked. She blogs near-daily about issues parental and otherwise at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, and all day long about the joys of mindful retail therapy at Want Not.
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