Not every parent has the good fortune to have their missing child profiled on television or in nationally distributed magazines. Most families must find other ways to raise awareness and distribute information about their missing children.
Social networks have a reach that extends around the world with hundreds of millions of profiles, and the ability to embrace causes. These invaluable resources provide no-cost opportunities that were inconceivable when Polly was kidnapped in 1993.
If your child is missing, you can take advantage of opportunities available from Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and YouTube.
These free sites enable you to create informational profiles of your missing child. You can post articles, photographs, testimonials, blogs, and videos. By organizing your profile and editing content to create a compelling presence, you can link and interact with vast networks of individuals and organizations interested in your issue. Cross-pollinating with true crime websites like Websleuths provides you with allies who are dedicated to maintaining interest in and solving ongoing cases.
A Southern California mother whose two children were reported missing 15 years ago tracked them down in Florida using Facebook. The children’s father had taken off with them in 1995 when they were still toddlers, but in March 2010 the mother found her daughter’s profile after searching for her name on the social networking site. My friend Robert McConnell used Facebook to locate his daughter, who was illegally kidnapped to Indonesia by a noncustodial mother in 2003. Personally, I regularly use my Facebook profile picture to post photos of America’s missing.
Child abduction is a big problem in China, with thousands of children disappearing each year. According to the Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs, as many as 1.5 million children are beggars. Most of them have been forced into servitude and many of them are kidnap victims. A viral Twitter (Weibo) campaign, launched on January 25 by social scientist Yu Jianrong, encourages citizens to post photos of child beggars and compare them with photos of missing children. More than 220,000 netizens responded and so far six children have been reunited with their families.
In an unrelated case, 33-year-old Peng Gaofeng recovered his son who was kidnapped in 2008 through a micro blog. When law enforcement efforts proved futile, Peng posted his son’s picture on Weibo. A newspaper reporter tweeted about Peng’s micro blog campaign to his 110,000 followers. It was reposted more than 5,000 times before a citizen compared the missing boy’s photo to a child who looked just like him. It turned out to be the same child. The reunion video posted on the Internet became an online sensation and captured the attention and respect of authorities.
Of course, liabilities do exist. Information may not be accurate or time sensitive. A visible time stamp on missing flyers will mitigate social networking shortcomings. Outdated information posted on social networking sites can be distracting. Time and resources are wasted when misinformation passes from hand to hand – Particularly if the case has been resolved. Before information is distributed it should be verified with Law Enforcement or National Crime Information Center.
Overall, the assets outweigh the liabilities. The Internet empowers the families of missing persons. With new and innovative applications constantly in development, the possibilities inherent in social network websites and other online innovations are limited only by our imaginations.