A child abduction emergency alert system launched in SA on Thursday has an “Amber Alert” feature which when activated will appear in Facebook users’ news feeds if they are close to the town or city where the child was last seen.
The partnership between the police and Facebook aims to accelerate the investigation of cases of missing children.
“The first of its kind in Africa, the Amber Alert system will enable the SAPS to seek help from the public when it is suspected that a child has been abducted and there is reason to believe there is an immediate and serious risk to the health or welfare of the child,” said Facebook in a statement.
The Amber Alert, Facebook said, enables people to instantly share important information about the missing child and suspected abductor, such as their photo, hair colour and clothing with their friends, family and Facebook groups.
“Already available across 23 countries globally, we are proud to partner with the SAPS to make Amber Alerts available in SA — the first African country to join this programme. When a child is missing, the most valuable thing one can do is share information as quickly as possible. By working with law enforcement in helping to share the right information with the right people, we hope that missing children will be safely reunited with their families faster,” said Emily Vacher, Facebook’s director of trust and safety.
Speaking at the launch, national police commissioner Gen Khehla Sitole said: “Today we are implementing a strong partnership which will assist SAPS in improving our response time, to 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”.
In a case of a missing child, the police may declare an Amber Alert if certain conditions are met.
“Once the SAPS has been notified about an abducted child, they must first determine if the case meets their Amber Alert criteria, which includes: the abduction is of a child aged 17 or younger; there is a reasonable belief that the child has been abducted; the SAPS believes the child is in imminent danger of serious bodily harm; there is enough descriptive information about the victim and suspected abduction for law enforcement to issue an Amber Alert to assist in recovering the child.
“A senior member of the SAPS will assess whether these criteria have been met before authorising the Amber Alert,” explained Facebook.
“The police service will then notify Facebook’s global security operations centre, which operates 24/7, that a verified Amber Alert is active.”
This is followed by Facebook “quickly” sending the alert to the news feeds of people located in targeted search areas in SA.
“This is an important step forward in our continued investment and commitment not only to SA but across the African continent. The goal is to instantly galvanise the entire community in the search and recovery of a missing child. Using Facebook enhances the current distribution system by providing all of this information in one place and giving people the ability to share it, wherever they are,” said Emilar Gandhi, Facebook’s head of public policy for the SADC region.
Amber Alerts will be active from Thursday.