South African Police Partners with Facebook to Find Missing Children

Social networking can be a powerful tool when it comes to rallying people for causes. That is exactly why the South African Police Service (SAPS) has partnered with Facebook to use its platform to deliver amber alert notifications when a child goes missing...
Social networking can be a powerful tool when it comes to rallying people for causes. That is exactly why the South African Police Service (SAPS) has partnered with Facebook to use its platform to deliver amber alert notifications when a child goes missing. Here’s how it’s going to work:   In the United States, AMBER stands for America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response. It works by issuing a text message to the phones of everyone located in the immediate vicinity of the area where a missing child has been reported.   In South Africa, things will work differently. When a child is reported missing, local law enforcement will determine whether the case is serious enough to warrant an amber alert and whether there’s sufficient information to move forward. The police service will then work with Facebook to issue an AMBER Alert that will be delivered using the Facebook App straight to the public’s phones.   The app will use its location-tracking features to determine which people are in the same neighborhood where the missing child has been reported; only people who are close to the area in question and are genuinely in a position to help the missing child will receive these alerts. “These alerts will occur very, very rarely,” says Emily Vacher, Director of Trust and Safety at Facebook. “If you see one, however, it’s very important to know that you may actually be in a position to help find a missing child.”   Before putting in a request for an amber alert, the police must ascertain that the case meets the social media platform’s criteria, which includes making sure that: The child who’s missing is 18 years-old or younger. There is reason to believe that the child has been abducted.  The South African Police Service feels that the child is in immediate danger or serious bodily harm.  There is enough descriptive information (appearance, clothing, last known location) on the suspect and the abductee for the police to issue an amber alert.   Facebook is currently looking to expand this feature to more countries. “Amber Alerts is available in more than 20 countries worldwide, with more to follow,” says Vacher. “We are excited to partner with the South African Police Service to make Amber Alerts available in an African country for the first time.”   Particularly vital to this new feature is the availability of a share feature: Any user can share the amber alert they receive within their social circles, expanding its reach and helping to locate the abducted child all the sooner. Facebook has also asked that all amber alerts issued through its system include an accompanying picture to locate the child as soon as possible.   However, Facebook has clarified time and again that, when a child goes missing, the only way to report the incident and ensure their safe return is to approach the police. It is the police, in turn, who will make the call on whether to use social media to spread the message.   General Khehla Sitole, National Commissioner of the South African Police, says, “[This will] enable us to find and safely recover vulnerable missing, abducted or kidnapped children through one of the world’s most popular social media platforms, Facebook.”

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