Facebook ‘alerts’ to users to help locate abducted children

Facebook and the gardaí have teamed to launch an alert system to help locate abducted children.

In 2012, the gardaí launched the CRI (Child Rescue Ireland) alert system to notify the public when there is a suspected child abduction. So far it has been rolled out on digital roadside signs and through traditional media.

Now as a result of a new partnership with the social media platform, these alerts will be posted on the newsfeeds of Facebook users.

“You’ve often heard the phrase it takes a village to raise a child, well it also takes a village to protect one. Today the village of people protecting children in Ireland has been strengthened by this new partnership,” said Emily Vacher, director of safety and trust at Facebook.

“If the time comes and the police needs to issue a CRI alert, we are confident that more people in Ireland who may be in a position to help will very quickly receive the information about the missing child from Facebook on their mobile devices and on their desktop computers.”

Ireland is only the 18th country in the world where our law enforcement body has entered into such an arrangement with Facebook.

In America, the tool is known as an Amber alert programme, named after Amber Hagerman, a nine-year-old girl who was abducted from her home in Texas in 1996 and was never found. So far, almost 1,000 abducted children have been safely found and reunited with their families as a result of the tool.

Ms Vacher said from yesterday, if gardaí put out a CRI alert, it will appear on Facebook users’ newsfeeds.

John O’Driscoll, Assistant Commissioner Special Crime Operations of An Garda Síochána is pictured with Emily Vacher, Director of Trust and Safety at Facebook. Pic: Andres Poveda

“If a CRI alert is issued here in Ireland, Facebook will send the alert directly to the people who use Facebook and are in the best position to be able to help find the child.

“The alert will appear in a prominent position in the newsfeed of a person who may be in the search area for the child. It is important to note that these alerts occur very, very rarely. Hopefully, one will never be needed, but if you see one on Facebook it means that you may actually be in a position to reunite a missing child with their family,” she said.

“Technology has changed the way we find missing children. It gets the right information to the right people at the right time.” 

“In the beginning, this information was shared days, weeks or even months after a child disappeared. Many years ago we would put images of missing children on the backs of milk cartons,” she added.

Since CRI was launched in Ireland in 2012, only six alerts have been issued, as it is specifically for suspected abductions where a child’s life is believed to be at risk. Five of those six alerts resulted in a positive outcome, one did not.

Ms Vacher said it is important that people understand these alerts are very rare as they are not your typical missing person post. She said it is imperative that people do not become “desensitised”.

“One of the most important things is that we will only send this information to somebody who’s in the search area. One of the most important things is that people don’t become desensitised when there is a CRI alert.

“If these happen all the time people would stop paying attention and that does a real disservice to the missing and abducted children.”

  

So these are a very rare occurrence but if you see one, it means that there is a child at great imminent risk and you’re in the search area and maybe you can help to bring the child home,” said Ms Vacher.

Out of a population of approximately 4.7m people, there are 2.8m Facebook users in Ireland. Ms Vacher said: “People in Ireland are very tech savvy.”

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan was at the launch of yesterday’s collaboration between Facebook and An Garda Síochána.

He described the new tool as “unparalleled” in its ability to disseminate extremely “time-sensitive” information to the public about potential child abduction cases, where their lives may be at immediate or serious risk.

How you will see a Facebook CRI alert

In 2012 An Garda Siochana launched the CRI (Child Rescue Ireland) alert system.

The decision to make a CRI alert is made by the gardaí when they are investigating an abduction, as opposed to the report of a missing child.

There are four criteria which an investigation must reach before a CRI alert is made:

  • The child must be under 18 years of age;
  • There is reasonable belief that the child has been abducted;
  • There is a reasonable belief that there is an immediate and serious risk to the health or welfare of the child;
  • There is sufficient information available to enable the public to assist.

In the last six years, there have been six CRI alerts - with five of those resulting in a positive outcome.

Up to now An Garda Siochana have made these alerts through traditional media and via digitised roadsigns, now Facebook will place them on the newsfeeds of their Irish users.

According to Facebook’s director of safety and trust Emily Vacher, only users in a specific area will see the CRI alert.

 

“It’s really important with child alerts that they don’t go to people who aren’t in a position to help because then they feel powerless.”

 

“The alert will appear in a prominent position in the newsfeed of a person who may be in the search area for the child,” said Ms Vacher, a former FBI agent.

“So one of the most important things is that we will only send this information to somebody who’s in the search area. One of the most important things is that people don’t become desensitised when there is a CRI alert,” she added.

She said that some piece of concrete information must be available to give to Facebook users when these CRI alerts go out.

“One of the important things about the CRI alert is that in order for an alert to be issued, there must be information that can be shared with the public that will help. Oftentimes that’s a car — so a make, model, colour, licence tag number or a clothing description.”


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