AMBER Alert System Coming To Facebook

John Lister's picture

Facebook is to issue missing child alerts in user news feeds to US citizens. The alerts will be based on the user's location and will tie in with existing alert systems.

The updates will be based on the AMBER Alert program that has been run for 20 years in the United States. AMBER Alert updates already go out via a range of media including: radio and television, highway electronic billboards, electronic signs outside participating retailers, and text alerts to users who have chosen to receive such messages.

Whether and when to send an alert is the decision of local police, using their own criteria. National guidelines suggest alerts should only go out when a number of conditions have been met, including: whether or not the abduction of a child has been confirmed, there's a risk of serious injury or death, or if there's enough detail on the child / abductor / vehicle (or a combination of these points) in order to be genuinely useful to the public.

AMBER Alert System May Have Saved Hundreds of Lives

One statistic suggests 728 children have been recovered following an AMBER alert, though it's difficult to discern whether or not the alert was directly responsible in every case. (Source:

One of the keys to the system is that alerts go out on a local basis. The idea is to garner attention among people in the area where the child is believed to be, without flooding recipients with too many irrelevant alerts. In the latter case, the opposite effect may occur, leading to users tune out and ignore relevant warnings.

Facebook says it will display alerts in news feeds for users in the relevant area. Rather than deal with individual police forces, Facebook will act only on alerts passed on via the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Facebook Alert Goes To Local Users Only

As part of its collation of reports, the National Center will ask local police to define the geographic area where it wants the alert to apply. Facebook will then use this to determine who sees the reports.

Each report will appear as a news feed post, including any available photograph(s) of the child. There'll also be an automatically generated link to a dedicated National Center page about each case. The alerts won't trigger messages, on-screen notifications or any other instant notification on the user's account. (Source:

What's Your Opinion?

Do you think this is a smart way to use Facebook, or will do you think there's a risk that the alerts may go unnoticed? Have you ever seen an AMBER alert through other media such as signs or text messaging? Would you share an AMBER alert with friends if it popped up on your Facebook news feed? Can you think of other ways in which such an alert system might be helpful in another scenario?

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Dennis Faas's picture

This might just be the most useful feature Facebook has ever developed, given the sheer volume of people that are already using Facebook on a daily basis.

Boots66's picture

I have to take that Dennis has written this correctly as even today we all too often see that this or that is for the continental USA - What the _____!? Canada and the USA are each others closest partners physically as well in trade - Why is this stupid game continued? The Amber Alert idea has great merits but why is Facebook only going to supply News Feeds to US Citizens and not Canadian as well (call it North America)!?
All too often we see citizens of one country on the lam trying to get to the other one hoping they can get lost in that country faster - We need a service like this opened up to all of North America!! If we are going to have the Free Trade Acts between our countries, then if we want to deal in the US or they in Canada, then it has to be all the way - Ship to Canada - Broadcast to Canada, etc.

Dennis Faas's picture

According to the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), the Amber alerts will be available to "US Users". In other words, the US law enforcement officials (police) are the ones responsible for making the reports and passing them on. As such it appears to be geographically limited at the moment. Read the story here:

Also note the title on that particular page as: "Facebook will send Amber Alerts for missing children to U.S. users." Nowhere does it mention Canada as having the same capability, even though the story was covered by a Canadian news agency.

I imagine that once it is proven to be successful, we will see it move onward to other countries.

Runr53's picture

IMHO too often people see something on a news source or wherever and forward it to all their contacts, never checking to see if the info is still valid. Also an alert sent to a local area forwarded by folks on Facebook to their friends list is probably no longer local. I think it will become another "pop up" to ignore.

LFSmith's picture

Oh, no! PLEASE tell us that there will be a way to disable these alerts. Nationwide, the vast majority of Amber alerts turn out to be false alarms, mostly petty custodial issues, where one parent is trying to screw the other over with a kidnapping charge, or simple miscommunications or misunderstandings.

The LAST thing we need is dozens of these things popping up on our walls.