Facebook launches Amber Alerts to help find missing children - KCTV5

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Facebook launches Amber Alerts to help find missing children

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Facebook users in the U.S. will soon receive Amber Alerts to help find missing children who may be located near them. Facebook users in the U.S. will soon receive Amber Alerts to help find missing children who may be located near them.
FAIRWAY, KS (KCTV/AP) -

Facebook users in the U.S. will soon receive Amber Alerts to help find missing children who may be located near them.

Facebook Inc. is working with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and local highway patrol to send the alerts to users' mobile phones if they are in a search area where a child has been abducted. Facebook says people are already using its site to encourage their friends and family to help find missing children, and that several children have been reunited with their families as a result of information shared on the site.

It was at a Target parking lot just off of West 97th Street and Quivira Road nearly eight years ago where people gathered to help look for missing 18-year-old Kelsey Smith. They passed out fliers and knocked on doors, but now, thanks to this Facebook announcement, it might become easier to get the word out when kids go missing.

Last March, a missing 11-year-old girl was found in a South Carolina motel room when a motel clerk called police after seeing an Amber Alert on Facebook, according to the company and reports at the time.

The Amber Alert warning system was started after the 1996 kidnapping and murder of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman in Arlington, TX. Since then, more than 700 children have been found as a direct result of the alerts. The alerts are issued over TV and radio, on highway signs, as text messages and over the Internet.

On Facebook, the alerts will include the missing child's photo and any other information that could be relevant, said Emily Vacher, trust and safety manager at Facebook and former FBI agent. She said Facebook's Amber Alert distribution tool is "very comprehensive" and complements other systems that are out there now. Text alerts and highway signs, for example, don't include photos, and the text alerts are limited to some 90 characters.

“When an Amber Alert is activated, think of Facebook as the world's largest neighborhood watch. We're sending detailed, relevant, timely information to people who use Facebook so they can open their eyes, they can look around their community, and hopefully find that one tip that will bring the child home,” she said.

Vacher said the alerts will only go to people who may be in a position to help find the missing child.

"When people see this on Facebook we want them to know that this is a very rare occurrence," she said.

Missy Smith knows firsthand how well social media can help. Her daughter, Kelsey Smith, was abducted and murdered in 2007. She was kidnapped from the Target parking lot near Oak Park Mall. Although Kelsey Smith was an adult and would not have qualified for an official Amber Alert, her mother recalls how social media helped.

“It's been almost eight years, believe it or not, since Kelsey went missing. And her friends were very active on social media. We went old school, printing and pasting to help find Kelsey. Immediately and it was on Facebook and that helped get the message out,” Missy Smith said.

John Walsh, a victim's rights advocate who is best known for America's Most Wanted, also supports this idea.

“Let's say your child meets the criteria of an Amber Alert and they're on the highway signs, but there's no picture. Or the radio show is going to break into programming in an hour and give the information about the child, but on the radio you don't see the picture or the description of the child or the kidnapper. So Facebook is going to use the power of their wonderful social networking site to alert people in that area that a child goes missing immediately. It's, it's a phenomenal partnership. I know it will save children's lives,” Walsh said.

Copyright 2015 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) and The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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