Facebook to issue Amber alerts -- interview with John Walsh
Amber Alerts on Facebook provide timely details on missing kids
Facebook and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) are teaming up to put Amber Alerts about missing children on Facebook News Feeds, but only for Facebook members in the targeted search area for an abducted child.
A game changer
John Walsh, the founder of NCMEC, former host of America's Most Wanted and host of The Hunt on CNN called this partnership "a game changer" (scroll down to hear an exclusive podcast interview). He said the alerts will have pictures of the child, his or her height and weight, a description of the clothing he or she was last seen wearing, as well as descriptions of any vehicle that may be involved and links to NCMEC missing child posters with more details. Users have the option to share the alert with friends.
Walsh said that the chance of finding a missing child are much higher if people are looking, and that the first 24 hours (really the first few hours, he said) are critical. Amber Alerts are issued under guidelines from the Justice Department that require "a child be at risk for serious bodily harm or death before an alert can be issued."
He also pointed out that people can see their Facebook News Feeds during times when they might not be watching TV, listening to the radio or driving by a lighted freeway sign with an Amber Alert. Besides, the amount of detail available on Facebook will be much greater, further increasing the chance that someone might spot the child.
Reaching the right demographic
Another important aspect of this service is that it reaches younger audiences who might not even be tuned into traditional TV and radio. "This is a game changer for a younger generation," he said. "I'm sure my 20-year-old son and every 14-, 15-, 13-year-old kid that's on Facebook ... When they get that regional Amber Alert, if they've seen that kid, I think they're going to get online and do something about it."
A personal tragedy led to Walsh's life's work
Walsh became involved in the search for missing children after his own child, Adam Walsh, was abducted and murdered in 1981. He helped found the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and has remained active with NCMEC ever since. His wife Reve is on the board of NCMEC (as am I) and his son Callahan works at NCMEC.
In the interview, Walsh said that "I can only fantasize what would have happened in Adam's case back in 1981 if we had the tools we have now." He said that, in 1981, the FBI refused to get involved in Adam's case because looking for children was not something the FBI did. Now they're an important partner of the National Center.
Walsh personally lobbied Congress to make the Amber Alert system a federal program, and said that putting Amber Alerts on Facebook will only increase its reach. "With the huge population of social media on smartphones, this will make it easier to find missing children a lot faster."
The recovery rate for missing children has grown from 62% in 1990 to 97% today, according to NCMEC and, said Walsh, online media and TV play a big part in helping to find those children. The Justice Department reports that 723 children have been recovered as a result of Amber Alerts.
Click below to listen to the full 11-minute podcast with John Walsh and ConnectSafely.org co-director Larry Magid.
Disclosure: Larry Magid serves on the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children board of directors and is also co-director of ConnectSafely.org, a non-profit Internet safety organization that receives financial support form Facebook.