Social-Networking Tools Help Find Missing Children

Forget milk cartons. Alert systems to help locate missing children have now gone high-tech.

New systems like SecuraChild use social-media networks, including Facebook and Twitter, to send out blast emails and text messages whenever a child is reported missing through the site. There are other options too, such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which lets people add an amber alert “ticker” to their website or app on your phone.

And social networking's aid has proven a dramatic success.

According to NCMEC, social media has helped to resolve and recover 98.5 percent of AMBER alerts since 2005. Of 1,451 AMBER notifications from 2005 to 2009, 1,430 children have been found.

“There is no doubt that social media played a role in that,” Bob Lowery, executive director of the Missing Children’s Division at NCMEC, told “Facebook has over a half a billion users. We don’t want to miss out on these opportunities,” he said.

And because of social networking sites like Facebook, NCMEC has the highest found and return rate they have ever seen. The recovery rate of missing children found and returned is 96.5 percent today, compared to 60 percent in the 1980's.

“We are finding lost kids now faster than we ever have and social media no doubt is helping us communicate with the public. We are able to engage the public with disseminating images of the missing child and that increases the probability that we will find that child,” Lowery said.

When one-year old Jaylin Boudria went missing from Swansea, Mass., an AMBER alert was issued. It was immediately sent out over Twitter and Facebook, and spread instantly to millions of people. Jaylin was found safe just five hours after the tweet was posted.

Across the country in Newport Beach, Calif., Christine Lin created a Facebook event page asking people to help find her missing brother Allen in February. “I had more than 200,000 views from all over the world before the media picked it up,” Lin told the California paper Daily Press. Allen Lin’s body was found 8 days later.

Securatrac, a company that creates different tools that utilizes GPS to track people, launched its most recent development, SecuraChild, last week.

SecuraChild is a AMBER alert system powered by social networks. When a child is missing, parents can, for free, enter the website and report the child missing. Followers of SecuraChild through subscription, Facebook, or Twitter will immediately be notified of the missing child.

“Social media is critical,” Securatrac CEO Chris Holdert told “Facebook and Twitter are well understood by people of all ages and professions. We are using it to promote awareness of the missing child and it would be silly of us not to.”

“51 percent of American 12 year-olds and older have a Facebook page. That’s more than the population of entire countries!” FBI spokesman Jason Pack said.

The FBI works with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and AMBER Alerts are added to the FBI's National Crime Information Center, details of which can now be blasted out through social media sites.

Through the use of cellular devices, Wi-Fi and iPads, people have their social-networking sites at their fingertips.

“We can put content-rich info out there in a matter of seconds so people can really find someone. We are speeding up the process of the traditional missing persons report,” Holdert said.

There have been reports of people using social media to put false missing child reports on sites like Facebook, however.

“Sometimes hoaxes do get disseminated. Because of that, we encourage people to verify with us or the police that the child is in fact missing,” Lowery said.

According to the FBI, people should always check their Internet sources to avoid these scams. “It’s the Internet… you have to take everything with a grain of salt. You can always check with the police or the FBI to make sure that the child is in fact missing,” Pack said.

“People will know if someone is not missing. So fake reports aren’t really a concern.”

Besides, the advantages of using social media to help locate these children far outweighs the potential for false reports.

“We are still monitoring the success, but it's very, very powerful. Anytime you can reach this high of an audience is very positive. As technology advances, we will have bigger and better results,” Lowery said.