For better or worse, Facebook is already a place where information spreads like wildfire. Now the company is using the nature of its network for good by partnering with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to share targeted Amber Alerts.
Facebook will push Amber Alerts to you on the web and in-app with photos and details about missing children in your area. It’s a more fully realized version of the location-based alerts already pushed to your smartphone, which include names but no photos or additional information.
Facebook won’t send you push notifications about missing children, but the alert will appear in your News Feed and give you an option to share it on your own Timeline. Each alert has the chance to go viral, which could lead to faster recovery of kids who have disappeared. Facebook doesn’t determine the location targeting for each alert —those parameters are set by law enforcement.
Missing children have already been found thanks to information spread on Facebook—last year, a girl was found after a motel owner saw an Amber Alert her friend had shared on Facebook. More than 725 kids have been found since Amber Alerts began in 1996, and with Facebook on board, that number will likely increase. There’s no way to opt out of the alerts.
Why this matters: Many Facebook users will never see an Amber Alert appear in their News Feeds, but if you do, remember that it’s a public service. (People have been known to complain when alerts are pushed to their smartphones.) Facebook has recognized its importance as a way people communicate today and is using that role for good with Amber Alerts and Safety Check, a tool rolled out late last year for people to quickly update their friends and family in case of emergency. During the Ebola maelstrom last November, Facebook raised awareness about the disease with a Donate button at the top of your News Feed.
According to the New York Times, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is also hoping to push Amber Alerts to Twitter users in a similar way.