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“Social media changed missing child searches”

In a recent article, The Guardian examines the impact of social media on missing children searches. AMBER Alert Europe actively shares good practices between police experts and calls for the cautionary use of social media.

“Time is often a crucial element when locating vulnerable missing people who are at risk to themselves or to the public. The use of social media supports our investigations and appeals and has achieved great results, some of which simply could not have happened through traditional communication channels”, says Alison Newcomb, Metropolitan Police commander in the UK.

AMBER Alert Europe’s police expert Charlie Hedges fully agrees with this statement and highlights the importance of a quick risk assessment by trained experts. “It’s like the triage process. Experts quickly define who is at risk and in need of immediate help. Once the risk is qualified, the right instruments to safely recover the child should be deployed. Social media is one of those powerful instruments.”

Good practice: cautionary use of social media

AMBER Alert Europe’s Police Expert Network is actively sharing good practices between European member states to support missing children investigations. Together with its experts, AMBER Alert Europe compiled a list of issues that should be taken into consideration when using (social) media to find missing children:

  • Use of the media must be considered on a case-by-case basis and not done for the sake of it;
  • It must be part of the investigative strategy to safely recover the child;
  • Potential risks to the child must be assessed;
  • Consideration should be given to which type of media will bring the greatest benefit in each case;
  • Publicity should be timely and time limited to eliminate unnecessary exposure;
  • Everyone should have the right to be forgotten and information and images should be deleted as far as is possible;
  • The potential impact of information being available to anyone at some time in the future should be considered.