OCR, Facebook in historic partnership for missing children

OCR, Facebook in historic partnership for missing children

Observer staff reporter

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

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Jamaica wrote another chapter in regional history yesterday with the launch of a partnership between the Office of the Children's Registry (OCR) and Facebook that will see Ananda Alerts being sent to the news feed of local users of the immensely popular social media platform to help locate missing children.Emily Vacher, former Federal Bureau of Investigation special agent and current director of trust and safety at Facebook, who was present at the launch of the partnership held at the Courtyard by Marriott in Kingston, lauded Jamaica for being the first Caribbean country to launch an emergency missing child alert system on the social networking service.

“Jamaica and the OCR are leaders in this area. There are many countries who have not even developed missing child alert protocols,” she said.

“When Facebook receives an alert from OCR, within 15 minutes that alert will be prepared and disseminated to the public. When you see this missing child alert it pops up as Active Ananda Alert that will have the picture of the missing child and a brief description. When you click 'learn more' it will take you off Facebook to the page prepared by the Global Missing Children Network, where you will see the age, height, weight, last clothing seen in, and a description of the vehicle or licence plate number if all that was witnessed.”

She further explained that there will be a share button for users to post to their Facebook timelines and monitor developments there. Vacher pointed out that the omission of the 'like' or 'comment' buttons was deliberate to prevent people from giving tips on recovering the child in a place that might not be monitored.

She said, too, that the alerts that currently exist in traditional media will not be replaced, rather, they will be enhanced using Facebook.

To further illustrate the relevance of the partnership, Vacher told the stories of two separate children who were abducted and recovered through Amber Alerts on Facebook.

“A man woke up one morning and, like many of us do, he checked his phone and saw an alert for a missing baby. He realised it was the same baby he was given the night before to babysit. He was able to help get the child home. A few months ago, a little girl was abducted in Florida and the man who had abducted her had brought her to different states. She ended up in Tennessee, and a woman who worked in a hospital, on her lunch break, like most of us do, took up her phone and began scrolling on Facebook. She saw the alert and realised the little girl was sitting in front of her.”

According to Vacher, 900 children have been recovered as a result of someone seeing an Amber Alert and taking action.

“The incredible development in technology over the past 20 years has made a significant impact in the way how we investigate cases of abduction and the way in which we find missing children. Today, information is given to the public in a matter of minutes, right in the palm of their hands,” she said.

“If you see an alert like this it means you are in a position to help, as people within the epicentre of where the child went missing or was sighted will see the alert. Read the alerts and you could help bring that child home. It takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to protect one,” Vacher said.

Greig Smith, registrar of the OCR, urged Jamaicans not to ignore the Ananda Alerts, but rather to share and repost.

“We encourage the public's partnership by the sharing of important information that will aid in the speedy recovery of a missing child once an Ananda Alert has been activated. On a global level, we can and must protect our nation's children. Facebook has now removed the digital boundaries that hindered the speedy recovery of missing children. You can rest assured that this partnership will bring about significant change,” he said.

Floyd Green, state minister in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, said the partnership is expected to positively impact the Ananda Alert Missing Children's Programme and encouraged Jamaicans abroad and in the diaspora to join the effort to get missing children home when they see the Active Ananda Alert.

He also urged parents to ensure they have current images of their children in the unfortunate event they go missing, as such images help in the search for the children.

In addition to the OCR and Facebook, the initiative has Hear the Children's Cry and The International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children as partners.

Krisnieve and Yanisha Bloomfield, parents of Samunya Bloomfield, who went missing at age three in 2014, lauded the initiative and said they believe it will bring forth leads in finding their daughter.

Richard Dean, father of 11-year-old Ananda Dean, who went missing in 2008 and was found dead, publicly thanked Hear the Children's Cry Convenor Betty-Ann Blaine and the team from OCR as well as Facebook for the partnership.

“The work towards getting here is unforgettable. No parent should have to go through what I went through, and I hope this programme will be successful and bring home missing children safely,” he said.

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