Why won't Facebook and Twitter help the police find missing people?

Why won't Facebook and Twitter help the police find missing people?

I remember the first time I saw people use Facebook to help find a vulnerable child who had gone missing near my home town. He was found within a few hours, and the strength of the people power we had just created was quite exciting.

That was in 2012. Since then, it has become very common to see alerts about missing people posted on Facebook and Twitter. Missing children or vulnerable adults tend to travel further, but there are loads of alerts on there if you look up the right accounts.

This is exactly where I have a problem to raise. Across the world there are what, millions maybe, of people who have gone missing and their families are worried about them. I can't retweet all of those alerts.

More importantly, retweeting doesn't work. I follow somebody who lives in London and avidly retweets missing child alerts from the Metropolitan Police - a very noble thing to do because he has millions of followers.

Problem is, I am very rarely in London. I realise there is a chance some of those children might have travelled to Cork or wherever I am, but there would be a much higher chance of success if the space was used to alert me about someone who was thought to be in my area. As a result I usually scroll past his retweets anyway.

As soon as that boy went missing in 2012, I thought the solution was obvious. Facebook and Twitter's sales departments are always boasting about how they can target specific audiences based on where they are located, where they might be going and what they do. So why do they not offer that service to the police?

It wouldn't need to replace any adverts, and it needn't clutter up the news feeds because it would replace the inaccurate missing person alerts already being shared. It could even be used for other important information like managing a terror alert.

It wouldn't even cost Facebook or Twitter anything, because they already have a system to enter sponsored posts into people's news feeds based on their location. I'm just asking for them to open up that service to the police.

The only argument against it I can think of would be to say that it is supposed to be like this. You have an emergency, you can either have a targetted missing person alert which will cost you or you can post your own one for free but it will be much less effective. I have to give them the benefit of the doubt and say the social media giants aren't looking at it like that - but are they?

I've been thinking this for a long time, but I don't have the clout to raise it as an issue. Do me a favour and tell this to someone. Maybe one day it will happen.

Tedious about the author bit

I write about media, exploring, heavy machinery and lists. I produce radio with an attitude accurately described as "amusingly surly".

I don't pretend to be anything close to a big player in the media industry. I'd like to think that's an advantage. Instead I try to remain well-read and approach things from a considered viewpoint, even if I absolutely hate the way the industry is going.

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Any similarities with real-life events or wealthy international firms is probably coincidental. No products endorsed. I'm powered by Monster Munch.

© 2020 Johnathan Randall.