(NEW YORK) — Starting Tuesday, there's a new way you can help locate a missing child simply by checking Facebook.
Facebook is teaming up with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to send Amber Alerts to its users in specific areas where a child has gone missing.
“Facebook ... in essence in this situation, is the world's largest neighborhood watch," Emily Vacher, Facebook’s Security, Trust and Safety manager told ABC News, announcing the partnership.
As soon as law enforcement issues an Amber Alert, Facebook pushes a targeted alert to your phone or computer like a text message, along with detailed information from law enforcement.
“It may include a picture of the child, a vehicle description, any information that the public would need to be able to help find the child,” Vacher said.
Take the case of Myra Lewis, a 2-year-old from Camden, Mississippi, who went missing March 1, 2014. A picture of the child, information on where she was last seen and what she was wearing would immediately go out to Facebook users in the search area.
People will be able to share the alert with their Facebook friends, in hopes of extending the reach to their network and beyond.
“When people receive these alerts on their phones, we want them to know that this is very rare and they're in a position to be able to help," Facebook’s Vacher said. “We want them to look around and see what they can do to contribute to bringing a child home.”
The partnership holds tremendous promise, says John Walsh, the co-founder of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
“Most children that are going to be murdered by a perpetrator, it's done immediately, within the first four hours,” he said. “This gives hope to the loved ones and parents of missing children.”
Walsh, whose 6-year old son Adam was abducted and found dead in 1981, says the immediacy of the system could be the difference between life and death in some cases
“This puts a missing child immediately -- that child's face, which you don't see on the highway sign, which you don't see on the radio, that puts important information right on someone's cell phone or laptop,” Walsh said. “I can only look back and say if Amber Alerts were around in 1981, if Facebook was around, I truly believe it might have made a huge difference in Adam's abduction.”
Facebook users have already used the social media site to spread the word about existing Amber Alerts, and kids have been found because of such efforts. The new system is designed to enhance the reach and efficiency. Walsh also sees the Facebook Amber Alert system having a major impact in rural regions.
“There are so many parts of America where law enforcement is stretched so thin … The media is a huge tool. But now we have a powerful social networking platform that can let people know immediately,” Walsh said. “It is a fantastic way to use social networking for good.”
To learn more about the partnership, visit missingkids.com.
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