Facebook held a press conference today to announce the launch of 53 AMBER Alert Pages that will dispatch bulletins about missing children via the news feed. Facebook will donate 50 million advertising impressions to promote these Pages. The news follows our discussion yesterday about the value and potential future of Facebook as an emergency information distribution medium.
Each US state, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands now has its own AMBER Alert Facebook Page. A national Page provides links to each local Page on a tab app developed by Page management company Involver, which Facebook previously used to power its Security Quiz and Stories apps, among others. There, users can also download copies of the quarterly AMBER Advocate newsletter.
Concerned citizens can Like their local AMBER Alert Page to begin receiving news feed updates when a local child goes missing. Since these updates are sent to the news feed, users will see them whether they’re using a web or mobile interface to access Facebook.
Chris Sonderby, Facebook’s Lead Security and Investigations Counsel, explained how the viral nature of Facebook will increase the effectiveness of the updates:
“[Users] will receive notification of an AMBER Alert…in their news feed. They in turn can share that information with their friends in a way that immediately spreads the word that a child needs our help, especially in those crucial first hours following an abduction.”
During the question and answer period of the conference, Sonderby explained how Facebook updates would be posted by the Pages for different states if abductors were suspected to have traveled. This reduces the limitations imposed by having separate local AMBER Alert Pages.
Ernie Allen, the head of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, defended the opt-in nature of the Pages, explaining “we are very sensitive to people considering this as spam. It’s a better way…than to do it automatically and offend a bunch of people who say “we don’t want to receive all of this.'”
Allen concluded the conference by saying “this is a great example of private /public partnership [and] a great model for solving many of the nation’s most serious problems.” We agree, and expect that the success of the Facebook AMBER Alert Page system will lead to creation of similar Pages for distribution of civil and natural disaster emergency information.