Law enforcement and families rely more and more on social media to alert communities to "be on the lookout" for missing children. A single post of one missing child's poster can be shared thousands of times on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and other platforms, and reach national and even international audiences. So, what can you do to ensure you are sharing responsibly?
Be cautious about sharing self-made or homemade missing child posters. Some people have bad intentions when they post homemade “MISSING” posters to social media, pleading for assistance. A person who has been ordered by a judge to have no contact with a child may create a missing child poster to learn the child’s location. They are relying on your kindness to share the information, but, in reality, your kindness may lead the prohibited person right to their victim.
Your local law enforcement agency may issue a media release or share a missing child poster on their social media page when they need the public’s help in finding a missing child. In addition, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) works directly with police agencies and NCMEC’s website at missingkids.org allows you to search for and readily share posters of missing children in your area. So, once you do your research and determine the missing child poster is generated or initiated by law enforcement and linked to a legitimate news source or organization like NCMEC, what, besides sharing the poster, can you do to help?
For one, follow up with the status of your share. Once a missing child is found, make sure you delete your post. Being a kid is hard enough. Remember 8th grade? It’s impossible to scrub the internet of all information and photographs of missing children who have been safely located, but it’s your responsibility to do your part to spare the child from any further scrutiny by removing your post and any subsequent commentary.
Speaking of commentary, think before you share, encourage, or promote the sharing of the following:
• information which is not absolutely necessary for identification
• information about the physical or sexual abuse or assault of a child
• criticism or accusations
• rumors, speculation or uncorroborated information
• confidential health information or medical diagnoses
• investigative details such as the use of cadaver dogs in searches
Social media is an invaluable tool in the search for missing children. Following these guidelines will ensure your “share” is helpful and does not cause a missing child or their family any undue emotional pain.